IT SHOULD HAVE been a duh.
Business as usual during a pandemic was never a smart business plan. And finally, a year after the alarm bells went off, workers in Alberta meatpacking plants will be offered vaccinations.
As we blogged in 2020, the plague has exposed the dark side of foreign-owned meatpackers.
Large scale slaughter operations in High River and Brooks—its workers and food safety—are regulated by the province; however, we can safely say foreign-ownership ran roughshod over the UCP brain trust, demanding workers get back to processing critters—or else! And should plant workers get sick on the job, well… whose problem is that?
It’s tough running any enterprise in the midst of a pandemic. Check—get it. But when you’re making choices that impact the safety of your employees and the wider community—with government insurance picking up the bill for your mistakes—other than AHS (Alberta Health Services) having to shut you down, what other triggers (plural) do you think you just pulled by doing nothing more than business as usual? Hold that thought.
- JBS Foods Canada facility in Brooks had more than 600 workers infected with COVID-19 last year and the site didn’t fully shut down.
- The Olymel pork-processing plant in Red Deer had more than 500 cases earlier this year, yet stayed open until temporarily shuttered by AHS in mid-February.
- The Cargill meatpacking facility (north of High River) had 950 employees test positive in an outbreak in 2020 and is facing another outbreak.
Add to the list: outbreaks at Edmonton’s Lilydale Sofina Foods and Sunrise Poultry Processors in Lethbridge.
DYNAMIC INACTION DOESN’T CUT IT
Many immigrants to our country are doing the jobs so-called ‘old stock’ Canadians prefer to avoid (working in a slaughterhouse, for one). The jobs pay what they pay. And to make ends meet, plant workers and their extended families, tend to live together in close quarters and cramped housing; ‘social distancing’ is next to impossible; the risk of community coronavirus-spread is extremely high. And last summer in the town of Brooks, 7% of the population tested positive for COVID-19.
Employers knew the risks. They knew the culture. And what to do about those risks, last year, should have been a duh.
Why wasn’t it?
What are the consequences for employers & bad operators with a terminal case of willful ignorance? Paying attention to the bottom line is one thing, but who should pay for employer intransigence on doing what must be done in a crisis?
This week, the Mayor of Fort McMurray has appealed for help. The local council recently declared a state of local emergency; the Fort McMurray region has over 1,000 COVID-19 cases, the highest rate of active infections in the province. Many of the oil sands workers are younger, hence, don’t qualify for the vaccine; Mayor Don Scott is asking the province to change the eligibility rules to provide access to younger people. Schools are closed; non-urgent medical procedures are postponed; and more beds have been added to the hospital’s ICU.
The Wood Buffalo region houses thousands in oil sands work camps. And, as of this post, there are COVID-19 outbreaks at more than a dozen sites.
What do you do when an elected official waves a white flag, pleads for assistance, and says in no uncertain terms we need that help—now!
NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL
Oil sands operators are among the largest and most influential companies in North America. This is a time to pull out all the stops and be part of the solution to a pressing problem. Don’t wait for AHS to shut down your operations, or for a lollygagging provincial government to decide how it’s going to divvy up vaccines.
Get to work on solutions—now.
Don’t hesitate or wait. The survival of your enterprise model is at risk.
Pay now. Or get ready to pay & pay & pay…
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.