Voice

UFCW Local 401 members are on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19, providing key services the public needs while we all work to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of the pandemic.

Our members are finally getting the recognition they’ve always deserved for the hard work they do, bringing food, healthcare, education, and much more to the lives of Albertans. Our work is vital in providing basic human rights.

We’ve been speaking up in the media to ensure the voices of Alberta’s workers are at the forefront of the public conversation on how we overcome this challenge. Here are some of those stories.


ESS: Meat-plant union calls for temporary shutdown amid deadly COVID-19 outbreak

February 9, 2021

A worker has died following an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Olymel meat processing plant in Alberta. The union representing workers is calling for a temporary shutdown of the plant. Evan Solomon speaks with Thomas Hesse, president of The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 (UFCW 401). 
Listen here


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‘Hundreds of workers suffering’: Union wants outbreak-stricken meat-processing plant closed down

February 7, 2021

Thomas Hesse, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 union, says more than 85 percent of workers are asking for the plant to be closed. “We’ve asked Olymel to essentially shut it down temporarily, bring in some experts,” said Hesse. “We have lockdowns in society when we see numbers skyrocket, it’s only sensible to have lockdowns at workplaces as well when numbers are skyrocketing.”
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New COVID-19 outbreak declared at Cargill meat plant in Alberta — site of Canada’s largest outbreak

February 6, 2021

“This is how the prior Cargill outbreak started. With about 10 cases, and within days it was hundreds of cases, and people were dying,” said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president Thomas Hesse.
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‘A tragedy in every sense’: Union wants Red Deer pork plant shut down after worker dies of COVID-19

February 6, 2021

“Our job as a union is to speak to the employer, ask them to do the right thing, close the plant down for a little while, hit the pause button. But really, this is the government’s role to protect workers and protect the citizens of Alberta, the citizens of Red Deer. This could become a very, very grave situation very quickly unless some action is taken,” he (Hesse) said.
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RDN Now

Union asking for two-week closure of Red Deer Olymel plant

February 6, 2021

In a letter shared to social media Friday night, UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse shared three requests to Olymel, the first being a two-week shutdown to halt further COVID-19 spread. The second is guaranteed full compensation for every employee during the shutdown. Lastly, the union wishes to immediately hold a joint meeting along with an independent health expert, government officials and Alberta Health Services.
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Worker dies in COVID outbreak at Red Deer Olymel pork plant; union calls for temporary shutdown

February 6, 2021

One worker at the plant has died of COVID-19, the province said. The death occurred Jan. 28, and was a man in his 30s with no pre-existing health conditions thought to be comorbidities for the novel coronavirus. The situation makes it clear a temporary shutdown is needed to keep workers at the plant safe, said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president Thomas Hesse Friday.
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Updated: One death, 80 active COVID-19 cases linked to outbreak Olymel plant in Red Deer

February 5, 2021

Hesse said that Olymel has ramped up production recently and hired a number of employees, which may be leading to the spike of cases. He added in a poll of employees, around 80 percent are afraid to go to work. “We’re facing a little bit of a Cargill situation. We’re going to ask for the plant to be closed. Not closed permanently, but the pause button has to be hit,” he said.
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Western Producer

COVID becomes part of food worker contract talks

February 4, 2021

The impact of the crisis on such workers directly affects farmers and ranchers, said president Thomas Hesse of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401. “They are affected by it because unless every intersection of the food supply chain makes sense and is working smoothly, it will have a profound impact on their lives.”
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UFCW Local 401 town hall hears workers nervous about vaccinations

January 31, 2021

In a morning general membership meeting attended by about 3,000 workers, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, which represents about 32,000 Alberta workers largely across grocery stores and meat-processing facilities, found that more than half of attendees are nervous about getting immunized for the novel coronavirus.
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Meat-plant workers in Alberta should be given COVID-19 vaccine priority: Union president

January 27, 2021

While acknowledging the current vaccine shortages, Thomas Hesse, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president, says workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, AB. and the JBS Canada plant in Brooks, Alta. should not face an extended wait “In the coming months at some point someone’s going to make a decision about who gets the vaccination. Will there be a priority? Will there be any prioritization of any so-called essential workers?” he asked in an interview with The Canadian Press.
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Union official wants meat-plant workers on early COVID-19 vaccine list

January 27, 2021

Packing-plant employees are still at risk, Hesse said. “In a Cargill or a JBS or other manufacturing facility in Alberta, there’ll be a couple of thousand workers in a big box still working in relative proximity,” he said. “These are essential workers. They’re at higher risk. This is clearly an occupational disease. Many of them want to have access to a safe vaccine.”
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Calls For Essential Workers In Alberta’s Meat Packing Industry To Receive Vaccinations

January 27, 2021

The UFCW Local 401 is holding a special telephone town hall discussion for its members on Sunday. The focus of which will be a discussion around vaccinations with a panel of experts. The union represents employees at Alberta’s major meat-packing plants. Thomas Hesse, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4-0-1 says the plant workers are deemed essential workers and should move higher on the list for the COVID-19 vaccine.
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Vaccines for meat processing plant workers

January 27, 2021

The president of the union which represents Cargill Meat in High River and JBS Canada in Brooks says the province isn’t doing enough to protect essential workers. Thomas Hesse of UFCW 401 is calling on the government to create a plan that includes pandemic pay increases, additional health and safety measures, and priority COVID-19 vaccines for those who are interested. The union will host a Town Hall meeting this Sunday (Jan 31) to hear members’ views on vaccination.
Watch video here


Sobeys says FreshCo rebranding aims to offer more discounted shopping, union calls it ‘destabilizing’

January 26, 2021

“Sobeys shouldn’t be taking advantage of people,” Thomas Hesse, UFCW president, said. “People are very anxious. Customers yearn for stability. Employees yearn for stability. Everyone knows the retail landscape in Canada is changing, but there is absolutely no need to do this at this time. “We think it is very destabilizing.”
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Asking for the vaccine

January 26. 2021

While the media has focused on JBS and Cargill, we must underline the importance of making all UFCW frontline members a priority for safe vaccination. To be clear, while we are opposed to forced vaccination and making vaccination a condition of employment. Our members who bring food to Alberta’s table every day need to access safe vaccines as early as possible. As frontline workers, just like doctors and nurses, their health is your health.
Watch video here


JBS to pay bonus to vaccinated employees

Jan 23, 2021

Tom Hesse, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers, No. 401, in Alberta, said there will be a “lag” of several more months before the vaccine is available to the general public in Canada.
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Benito Quesada, union shop steward, identified as 3rd death linked to Cargill COVID-19 outbreak

May 12, 2020
The third death linked to an outbreak of COVID-19 at a southern Alberta meat-processing plant was Benito Quesada, a union shop steward who had worked at the plant for more than a decade, his union says.
Quesada, 51, died on the weekend. He contracted COVID-19 in mid-April and spent weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, according to a release from UFCW Local 401 on Tuesday.

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‘Disturbing’ review shows Cargill failed to engage workers during COVID-19 investigation

May 11, 2020
“It’s disturbing how the employer is not in compliance with the law and yet the plant remains open,” said Hesse. “What the findings reveal very, very clearly is that no one is talking to the workers.”
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OHS report finds COVID-19 investigation at Cargill High River plant did not include worker representation

May 10, 2020
“This happens as we are trying to raise concerns about the COVID-19 hazard. The outbreak reveals we have been proven right about that hazard and Cargill has been proven wrong.”
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Coronavirus: Cargill, union to have hearing with Alberta Labour Relations Board next week

May 7, 2020
The union representing workers at a Cargill meat plant in Alberta that’s the site of a large COVID-19 outbreak will have its concerns listened to by the Alberta Labour Relations Board at a hearing scheduled next week.
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Inside the slaughterhouse

May 6, 2020
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, the union that represents workers at the plant, had requested a stop-work order and filed an unfair labour practice complaint against the plant and the provincial government in hope of preventing the reopening. It has also called for a criminal investigation.
Read more


Father of Cargill worker becomes 2nd person to die in massive outbreak linked to slaughterhouse

May 6, 2020
Armando Sallegue, a widower from the Philippines who once dreamed of joining the seminary, had travelled to Alberta to visit his son’s family. But his son works for the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River that has been struggling with the largest single COVD-19 outbreak in North America.
Armando Sallegue developed symptoms and was sent to hospital on the same day that his son, Arwyn Sallegue, was first diagnosed with the illness, on April 23.
Twelve days later, the grandfather died of the infection.

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Corbella: Cargill worker who died was jolly, sweet and unprotected

May 5, 2020
“We wanted to ensure Bui would become known to Albertans as more than a COVID-19 statistic, to help people understand that these workers are not just numbers but hard-working, loving people who made a big difference to many, who put food on our tables and who deserve to be treated with respect and care,” said Antonio.
Read more


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Union rallies as Cargill meat plant reopens after shutdown due to COVID-19

May 4, 2020
The union that represents Cargill workers held a rally on the edge of the property and handed out black face masks emblazoned with “Safety First” to anyone who needed them.
“We have hundreds here for anyone who wants them,” said Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

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85% of workers afraid to return as Alberta meat plant preps to reopen after COVID-19 outbreak, union says

May 3, 2020
“The plant shouldn’t reopen unless it’s safe,” said Thomas Hesse, president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401. “In recent days, large plants in the United States that have been closed for two weeks have reopened and the number of diagnoses doubled after some plants reopened.”
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Corbella: Cargill, JBS and province failed at keeping workers safe

May 2, 2020
On April 6, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was discovered at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River.
That’s when Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, called on Cargill officials to close down the plant for two weeks. That would have given every worker the ability to self-isolate for two weeks with those in their household and get tested for the dreaded disease. It also would have given Cargill management time to have the plant completely sanitized and for social distancing changes to be implemented on the production lines.

Read more


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Alberta’s Meat Plant Workers Share Their Fears and Anger

May 1, 2020
“Where is the independent evaluation saying how Cargill got so many people sick in the first place, explaining how this will not happen again?” asked Michael Hughes, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers 401.
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Union takes legal action to stop Cargill meat-packing plant from reopening amid COVID-19 outbreak

May 1, 2020
“It is our objective and role to use every legal avenue available to us to keep the Cargill High River plant closed until we are able to ensure the safety of workers employed there and that their voices have been heard,” said Tom Hesse, president of the union, in a release.
Read more


Corbella: With record COVID-19 outbreak, Cargill’s safety measures in question

April 30, 2020
Alberta now has the dubious distinction of having the largest workplace COVID-19 outbreak in North America, stemming from the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, says Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401.
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Union calls for Kenny to bring in more protection for front-line food workers

April 25, 2020
Union leader Thomas Hesse says workers have “lost faith” in Premier Jason Kenney to protect the livelihood of front-line food workers amid the COVID-19 crisis and is now urging the government to implement greater protections.
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Ignoring US Alarms, Alberta Meat Packers Spawned Canada’s Biggest Outbreak

April 24, 2020
Meanwhile the contagion in Alberta continued to grow. After more cases emerged at Cargill in early April, Alberta Health Services inspected the plant on April 7.
Thomas Hesse asked for a written report but was told there was none, and that the Calgary regional arm of health services relied on “verbal reports” from its staff that the plant was safe.

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Union calls on Kenney government to improve working conditions in grocery stores, processing plants

April 24, 2020
In a letter to Premier Jason Kenney dated April 23, Tom Hesse, president of United Food Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada Union Local 401, asked the province to treat food workers — who have been designated by the province as contributors to an essential service — as essential and not expendable.
Read more


Health and safety inspection of Alberta meat plant linked to 515 COVID-19 cases was done by video call

April 21, 2020
“When an OHS officer won’t attend the plant and instead does a plant tour by cell phone, that should tell you that there’s something wrong,” said Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401.
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The Edmonton Press: ‘A difficult decision’: Cargill meat-packing plant pausing production

April 20, 2020
The union had been calling on Cargill to shut the plant down for two weeks to allow workers to self-isolate and to give the plant a thorough cleaning.
Hesse said three-quarters of members expressed concern about their safety during a union conference call Sunday.
He added that he wants an independent third party to look at the plant and give an assessment.

Read more


rdnewsNOW: Union seeking two-week shutdown at Red Deer Olymel facility

April 20, 2020
The union representing workers at the Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer is seeking a two-week shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the company says that’s not an option at this time. 
Richard Vigneault, Olymel spokesperson, says UFCW 401 has requested such a measure, but the current situation does not justify it just yet.

Read more


CBC: What led to Alberta’s biggest outbreak? Cargill meat plant’s hundreds of COVID-19 cases

April 19, 2020
“This case in particular really makes me wonder whether we find that some of our essential workers are expendable,” Block said. “We know what to do, and all we need the will of government to take that collective responsibility and make sure that all employers provide workers with protections.”
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City News: One person per household each week: Proposed grocery store regulations

April 19, 2020
(Video Only) – “This is about checking the point of access to the store, the utilization of shopping carts, how often you’re going to the store, how many people are going to the store, your conduct in the store” – Thomas Hesse President, UFCW Local 401
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660 News: High River Cargill workers being neglected PPE equipment amid COVID-19 outbreak

April 18, 2020
“I asked if [we] would be supplied a face shield and they said no due to a lack of equipment. Later that day, they handed out more face shields to members of management.”
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Global News: Union wants Alberta government to limit grocery trips to slow COVID-19 spread

April 17, 2020
“We’re going to ask for clear rules that are enforceable with fines in a regulatory regime. The fact of the matter is we can’t let these places become nursing homes and it’s just a free-for-all in these grocery stores right now,” Hesse told The Canadian Press.
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CBC: 358 cases of COVID-19 now linked to Cargill meat plant

April 17, 2020
Households with connections to the Cargill plant in High River — about 60 kilometers south of Calgary — now represent 358 cases, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.“It’s a tragedy. We asked days and days ago for that plant to be closed temporarily for two weeks, send all of the workers home with pay to isolate,” Hesse said Friday. “That was when we were aware of 38 cases. That was before they set up a dedicated testing facility in the area. We’ll never know how much lower that number might’ve been.”
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Red Deer Advocate: Grocery store union seeks higher pay and stricter safety rules

April 16, 2020
“How to improve safety for grocery store employees is sure to enter into ongoing labour negotiations,” Hesse said. Contracts for workers at Safeway and Superstore have expired.
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Calgary Herald: Anxiety among ranchers ‘higher than BSE’ as COVID-19 slows work at meat-packing plants

April 16, 2020
“Employees are telling us they’re frightened,” Hesse said. “I know farmers just want to make a living, as do our members. But making a living cannot trump human life.” … The Canadian Federation of Agriculture on Thursday called on the federal government to prioritize food production and immediately create an emergency fund to help farmers and ranchers get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
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CBC: Pandemic ‘poses particular challenges’ for food processing plants: Freeland

April 16, 2020
United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union local 401 president Thomas Hesse said three cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the JBS plant in Brooks, Alta. … At the Cargill plant in High River, there are 38 COVID-19 cases, and in March one worker at Harmony Beef in Balzac tested positive, he said … Hesse said the union has reached out to those plants, and to the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, to ask them to proactively shut down to keep their workers safe … “They’ve all said no. But Cargill has in some ways done what we’ve asked because of pressure,” Hesse said, noting that the plant has reduced its operations.
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Cochrane Today: Union leader asks Cargill for 14-day shutdown to protect workers

April 14, 2020
Nash added Cargill implemented additional safety measures like temperature testing, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, prohibiting visitors, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering staggered breaks and shift flexibility … Hesse said that isn’t good enough … “We’re considering some legal action, but I don’t want to engage in legal action,” Hesse said. “We’re still asking them to close the plant – we would like to give them an opportunity to reconsider… I am hoping their final decision is something better than what they have told us thus far.”
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Global News: Alberta meat plant making changes after union calls for more COVID-19 protection for workers

April 13, 2020
Among the concerns Hesse had raised with Cargill was that the plant is designed around efficiency and that work being done there is not conducive to social distancing.
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CBC: Union says 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases at Cargill meat plant cause for closure

April 13, 2020
Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said provincial modeling showed that about one in six Albertans could contract the novel coronavirus. The union noted that one in six of the plant’s 2,000 staff equals 333 people.
Read more


Everything Lethbridge: Union calls for temporary closure of meat-packing plant in High River over COVID-19 concerns

April 13, 2020
“Your plant is designed around efficiency,” wrote Hesse about Cargill’s operations. “Work is done and the workplace is arranged around something that is the opposite of “social distancing”. Your workplace is designed around the concept of “social proximity”. Unfortunately, the employer is just not doing enough to protect its employees in this environment. You need to do more.”
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HighRiver Online: Cargill Reduces Shifts At High River Plant

April 13, 2020
In a post on the Union’s Facebook page, Local President Thomas Hesse says there are at least 38 confirmed cases at a single food processing plant in Alberta, although the plant was not named.
Only days ago, he says, there were five
.
Read more


CTV News: Union wants Cargill to pause High River beef processing plant after 38 workers test positive for COVID-19

April 13, 2020
The union representing the 2000 workers at the Cargill Meat processing plant in High River wants it shut down immediately.
View here
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Todayville Red Deer

Todayville Red Deer: Union ‘deeply troubled’ by lack of COVID-19 protection at meat plant

April 13, 2020
Thomas Hesse wrote that the plant is designed around efficiency and that work is done in a manner that is the opposite of social distancing … He demanded a two-week closure to assess safety and guaranteed full compensation for the plant’s approximately 2,000 workers during the shutdown.
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Calgary Herald: Union ‘deeply troubled’ by lack of COVID-19 protection at meat plant

April 13, 2020
An executive with Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. says the second shift at the High River plant is being idled to minimize the impact of COVID-19.
“This was a difficult decision for our team, but our values are guiding our actions,” Jon Nash, the North America lead of Cargill Protein, said in a statement Monday.

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HighRiver Online: Dr. Hinshaw On High River’s Spike In Cases

April 13, 2020
When asked about the apparent spike in the region, Dr. Hinshaw said she has received some information from medical officers in the area … “What I’m aware of is that in High River, there have been several cases linked to households where there are lots of people living together, where transmission has likely happened in those households. I know that medical officers of health in the Calgary zone have been aware of the risk of transmission, that they have seen several of those cases, and they have been working with the municipality in making sure that active followup is done.”
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Everything Lethbridge: Union calls for temporary closure of meat-packing plant in High River over COVID-19 concerns

April 13, 2020
“Employees are scared. Your employees are scared. It is time to act. It is time to protect life.” … Hesse is making three demands:
– Close the plant immediately for two weeks to conduct a comprehensive assessment of its safety
– Guarantee full compensation for every employee during the temporary shutdown
– Meet with union officials, experts, and government officials to create a plan for “clear and enforceable rules around health and safety in your workplace.”

Read more


Realagriculture: Alberta Cargill beef plant slows to one shift, cancels cattle orders due to COVID-19 risks

April 13, 2020
United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union local 401 President Thomas Hesse wrote to plant management Sunday about the situation, stating, “Our union is very bothered and deeply troubled about your Alberta workplace,” Hesse said in the letter, obtained by CBC News. 
“There is no reason to believe that hundreds of individuals in your working environment won’t soon be carrying the virus.”
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HighRiver Online: Cargill Reduces Shifts At High River Plant

April 13, 2020
In a post on the Union’s facebook page, Local President Thomas Hesse says there are at least 38 confirmed cases at a single food processing plant in Alberta, although the plant was not named … Only days ago, he says, there were five … The union wants an immediate two-week closure of food processing plants to conduct a comprehensive assessment of their safety.
Read more


Discover Humboldt: Cargill Slows Beef Processing Operations

April 12, 2020
Every person affected is a valued member of our team. Our employees are working hard to keep food on tables in local communities. While this location is working at reduced capacity and we adapt to operating during a pandemic, our work doesn’t stop. Statement attributable to Jon Nash, Cargill Protein – North America Lead
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The Pig Site: Cargill shuts Pennsylvania meat plant to protect employees against COVID-19

April 8, 2020
“Our goal is to keep our 900 employees at this case-ready protein facility healthy and minimise risk within the Hazleton community, which has been greatly impacted by COVID-19,” Cargill said.
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Calgary Herald: Grocery store workers deal with COVID-19 anxiety, celebrated as ‘heroes’

April 5, 2020
“’This is a very human story playing out in the hearts and the minds of these cashiers at the grocery store,’ said [UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas] Hesse, adding the union has been working tirelessly to ensure its members feel safe and appropriately compensated at work.
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Bloomberg: Uproar Among Workers Supplying the World’s Meat Is Spreading

April 1, 2020
“We’re calling on all these employers to look themselves in the mirror and say no matter what happens we did everything we could to keep food on the table and everyone safe,” said Thomas Hesse, President of UFCW Local 401
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Edmonton Journal: ‘Continuous play on the mind’: Grocery workers put to the test as COVID-19 strains emotions

March 30, 2020
UFCW Local 401 members Sheena Thompson and Colleen Ewen are featured in this article about the impact of COVID-19 on grocery store workers.
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Bloomberg: The Workers Who Supply the World’s Food Are Starting to Get Sick

March 26, 2020
“At many meat-processing plants, workers are ‘essentially elbow to elbow,'” said Thomas Hesse, President of UFCW Local 401.
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Calgary Herald: Calgary Co-op joins other grocers in hiking pay for front-line employees

March 26, 2020
“Like all the rest of us, [our members] want to earn a living and they also want to help,” said UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas Hesse. “And now they have this superstardom, this new recognition of their importance.”
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Medicine Hat News: Grocery stores making adjustments to keep staff, patrons safe

March 26, 2020
“It’s crucial at this juncture to ensure no employee feels pressured to work when they are unwell” — UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas Hesse.
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660 News: Grocery store workers need to be properly compensated says union president

March 25, 2020
“If you’re going to provide food to the tables of Albertans and provide a basic human right, that work ought to be compensated fairly as well” — UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas Hesse.
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Progress Report: Grocery store workers are critical infrastructure now

March 24, 2020
They are keeping our society together. And yet the workers at your local Safeway in Alberta have been fighting for a fair contract for months with an employer that wants to roll back wages and cut benefits for these heroes.
Listen to the interview


CBC: Critical link in the food chain: Grocery stores take measures to limit coronavirus spread

March 23, 2020
The pandemic is showing how integral food workers are to public health, said Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401. 
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