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Alberta Politics

Cargill workers vote to strike just as Devin Dreeshen resigns and another Horner becomes Minister of Agriculture

Workers at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River have voted overwhelming in favour of taking strike action.

Workers at the meat packing plant represented by UFCW Local 401 voted 97 per cent in support of strike action if the Minnesota-based multi-billion dollar corporation does not make them a fair offer.

Richelle Stewart

“Our Cargill union members came to bargaining with a genuine interest in improving working conditions at the Plant,” UFCW Local 401 Secretary Treasurer Richelle Stewart said in a press release. “Unfortunately, Cargill has focused on playing games that have slowed the process down and stopped real progress. That has been very disappointing.”

The union has given the employer notice that workers could go on strike on Dec. 6 if demands to improve workplace safety are not met.

The Cargill plant in High River was the site of one of the worst early workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 in Alberta and lead to the death of three workers. More than 1,500 COVID cases were linked to the outbreak at the site.

At the time, the corporation and the Alberta government were criticized for not acting quickly to shut down the plant when it was apparent that the outbreak was only getting worse.

“Local 401 fought and was successful in having Cargill’s High River Plant closed,” said Stewart. “The Government of Alberta did nothing to address the unfolding tragedy and was later revealed to be untruthful in its dealings with Cargill workers.”

Devin Dreeshen

The Agriculture and Forestry Minister at the time was Devin Dreeshen.

The son of long-time Member of Parliament Earl Dreeshen resigned from cabinet last week after he was named as a key figure  in a sexual harassment and defamation scandal and a lawsuit that revealed a culture of heavy drinking in the Legislature by the minister and political staffers.

Replacing Dreeshen as the newly renamed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development is Nate Horner, who was only raised from the backbenches to become Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development on July 8, 2021. The rancher from Pollockville was elected as the UCP MLA for Drumheller-Stettler in 2019.

Nate Horner United Conservative Party Drumheller-Stettler
Nate Horner

If the Horner name sounds familiar, it is because he comes from a legitimate Alberta political family. His cousin Doug Horner served as Agriculture Minister from 2004 to 2006 and his great-uncle Hugh Horner was Agriculture Minister from 1971 to 1975. His grandfather Jack Horner even served as Pierre Trudeau’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce after crossing the floor to the Liberals in 1977. The patriarch of the Horner family, his great-grandfather Ralph Horner, was a Senator from Saskatchewan and another one of his great-uncles, Norval Horner, was also an MP.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro
Tyler Shandro

A strike by workers at one of the province’s largest meat packing plants could be the first big challenge faced by Horner and newly appointed Labour Minister Tyler Shandro, who was shuffled out of the Health Ministry after fumbling the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strike notice issued by UFCW Local 401 notes that the job action could be accompanied by a variety of other actions, including asking Albertans to boycott the beef industry until Cargill workers are treated fairly, as well as picketing and leafleting in front of other workplaces that sell Cargill products, like McDonald’s drive-thrus.

An updated version of the well-known Alberta campaign.

The meat packing plants in southern Alberta were the sites of some great injustices during the COVID-19 pandemic and those workers – the people who slaughter the beef Albertans claim to love so much – deserve to have their demands for improved safety and workplace conditions not only met, but exceeded.

3 replies on “Cargill workers vote to strike just as Devin Dreeshen resigns and another Horner becomes Minister of Agriculture”

It is time workers were supposed in striking! Profit for the USA Corporation and its shareholders over the lives of Canadian workers and their families is not ok.

This is an interesting development, Dave, thanks for writing about it. As is so often the case, there are some interesting political consequences to this story, if the strike vote does in fact become a strike.

As was made clear to us while Cargill was shut down with Covid at the beginning of the pandemic, Western Canadian beef producers need the plant to stay open, or they will very quickly find they are wasting money feeding market-ready animals. Furthermore, the beef producers are the UCP’s base.

In the other corner we have Cargill workers, who have definitely gained public support as a result of their Covid infections earlier. Considering the fact they are striking for safe working conditions, that public support is sure to strengthen.

What, then, are our political leaders to do, if the strike goes on long enough to consider legislating the workers back to work? Send the workers back and pay a heavy political price if Cargill has another outbreak, especially if lives are lost, or further alienate their beef producing base, which is already suffering as a result of this summer’s drought?

To me, an obvious solution would be to strengthen the labour code so the Cargill workers demands are met. Too bad UCP considers labour laws red tape.

PS I hope Tyler Shandro enjoyed his few weeks of peace after leaving the Health ministry – he could be heading back into the limelight.

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