Cargill workers accept new contract by 71%

Bittersweet victory for Cargill workers

For months, Cargill workers have been waiting for their moment to arrive. As the site of North America’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, it has been a challenging time for the workers and their families. The Cargill High River Plant saw hundreds of workers grow ill, suffer, experience terror, and even die.

Human rights groups characterized workplaces like this as places of blood, sweat, and fear.

Working with their union, UFCW Local 401, worker representatives from Cargill demanded fairness, respect, and compensation from their employer. Like all workers, they had one simple thing to say: We Matter.

Local 401 prepared around the clock for a potential strike. Tents were erected in front of the Plant, floodlights and propane heaters were brought in, nearby fields were levelled so that hundreds of workers could park, and a picketing payroll system was in finalization. Union representatives from across the country booked flights to arrive in High River. We were ready.

In recent days, worker representatives from the Union Bargaining Committee pushed Cargill management to the edge of the negotiations cliff. They told Cargill bosses that they were prepared to withdraw their labour unless Cargill proposed a contract that would offer hope for a better workplace and a better future for Cargill workers and their families.

That contract was presented, and today, through a democratic voting process, Cargill workers chose to accept it by 71%. With everything that Cargill workers have been through, it was not an easy decision.

The contract is the best of its kind and presented unprecedented gains in this time of economic and political uncertainty and during the biggest health crisis the world has ever seen.

A victory has been won and this is a day to celebrate.

The injustices at Cargill, however, are not made right by the contract. Local 401 and its activists look to the future to enforce the new rights of Cargill workers in this unprecedented collective agreement.

This is a time for hope.

Speaking about the circumstances surrounding negotiations, President Thomas Hesse remarked:

“At times over the last number of months, workers have felt helpless. Chaos has swirled about and it often felt like workers have been treated like lightbulbs – you burn out and the forces of greed and power simply screw in another bulb. But our members, have shown that the vulnerability of the individual is overcome by the strength of the many.

From Superstore to Safeway, Sofina to Co-op, and all the way to casino workers, our members have found the cure for helplessness. When they have joined together, multi-billion-dollar corporations have been forced to blink — even to shiver — in the shadow of the power of their employees.

The union is ultimately the power of the people. It is through the union that worker power shines brightly. And so, by this victory, we can see that there is hope. You are never helpless.”

Tomorrow, work will begin to enforce and apply the new provisions of the Cargill union contract. There are new procedures to ensure worker health and safety. There are new benefits. There are new mechanisms to ensure workers are treated with dignity and respect. There are new rights for sick employees. There is money, and money matters. Money is a reward. Money is compensation. Money is how you feed your family and live your life.

Local 401 congratulates and thanks Cargill union members and our Cargill Bargaining Committee. It is through their determination and strength that these important victories have been achieved.

The coming months bring new challenges. As is always the case, our work is not done.

In Brooks, 2,500 employees who process beef at the JBS Plant are watching the Cargill precedent carefully. In the New Year, we head into bargaining for their new contract.

In the coming months, we also look forward to the citizens of Alberta joining with us in calling for reforms and restructuring in the meatpacking industry. Cargill has boasted of their highest profits ever while beef prices have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Cargill’s labour costs have been unchanged up until now. So, many are upset.

Workers have been ripped off. Ranchers have been ripped off. And we’ve all been ripped off at the supermarket counter. Government failed to protect these workers, as well as failing to protect Alberta ranchers and consumers. Change must occur.

Finally, a special thank you to all Local 401 members and Alberta’s labour moment. So many of you have reached out in recent weeks to offer your support and solidarity to Cargill workers. For that we thank you.

In closing, it is important to remember that as members of a union and a labour movement, Local 401 members do not say, “What about me?” they always say, “What about us?”

Together, we can be successful in creating better workplaces and a better world.