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Union leaders disappointed at reports UCP knew of rising COVID cases at Cargill plant

A union representative greets workers returning to the Cargill beef processing plant in High River, Alta., that was closed for two weeks because of COVID-19 Monday, May 4, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday more than $77 million to help keep workers in the food processing industry safe.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY (660 NEWS) – Labour leaders are accusing the United Conservative government of putting workers at risk to keep a meatpacking plant open.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) said the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshan were aware of high COVID-19 counts at the Cargill plant near High River but allowed the plant to continue operating.

The AFL obtained documents showing that as the numbers rose, officials allegedly misled workers.

Thomas Hesse is with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, the union representing workers at the plant. He said he’s very disappointed to hear this news.

“These are the people we’ve entrusted to take care of vulnerable people, to make sure we are a healthy society and to have just told workers to go to work, it’s safe, don’t worry about it when they knew that it wasn’t, it’s really shocking.”

WATCH: Alberta’s Cargill meatpacking plant reopens after two-week coronavirus shutdown

Hesse added whatever mistakes were made by the Alberta government and Alberta Health Services (AHS) need to be corrected to avoid repeat outbreaks, especially as variant cases are rising.

Nearly half of the 2,200 workers at the plant became infected, and two people died following an outbreak last year.

There are currently outbreaks at a couple of other Cargill facilities, but Hesse didn’t have the updated numbers on how many workers are affected.

“We’re in the process of assessing, we’re talking with union members there, we’re investigating to what extent the outbreaks are occurring, whether they are restricted to certain areas.”

Hinshaw and Dreeshan held a town hall assuring workers the plant was safe, however, the AFL said that meeting only focused on the role carpooling and community transmission played in the growing caseload.