RELEASE: “A quiet, gentle, and humble man:” UFCW Local 401 grieves the loss of union leader amid Cargill High River COVID-19 outbreak

May 12, 2020
Calgary, AB – UFCW Local 401 is deeply saddened to learn of the loss of another union member who worked at the Cargill plant in High River. This is the second COVID-19 death of a Cargill High River employee and the third death of a person related to the COVID-19 outbreak at the plant. Nearly half of the plant’s 2,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Benito Quesada, 51, was a union shop steward at the Cargill High River plant and is reported to have passed away in hospital this weekend.
“It is important to recognize that behind the statistics are hardworking people who have sought to make a living and support their families in Alberta’s meatpacking industry,” said UFCW Local 401 President, Thomas Hesse. “Our members bring food to the tables of Canadians, but they also have lives outside the plant and loved ones who are now grieving their loss. We join them in that grief.”
Benito came to work at Cargill in October 2007 and was known in the plant as a “brown hat,” which means he served his coworkers as a union shop steward. Shop stewards are union members who are employed by the company but also volunteer to serve their coworkers by providing day-to-day union representation and support for members. They are union leaders in the workplace and deal with issues facing union members directly on the shop floor.
“Benito was a quiet, gentle, and humble man who came to Canada from Mexico to work at the Cargill plant in High River,” said UFCW spokesperson, Michael Hughes. “I had the pleasure of meeting Benito for the first time at a shop steward’s training course in 2016. We had many conversations since then, and he always told me how proud he was for having been able to bring his family to Canada.”
Like so many of his coworkers, Benito was deeply concerned about COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic could have on health and safety in the plant environment.
“In mid-April, we learned that Benito had contracted COVID-19 and was soon in intensive care,” said Hesse. “We believe he was in a medically-induced coma on a ventilator for a considerable period of time. What he and his family must have faced over the past several weeks is unimaginable. We are working to provide whatever support we can to the family of our brother, Benito. Our whole union grieves this terrible loss.”
“We have hundreds of shop stewards across the province who have been called upon to speak up for their coworkers in new and extraordinary ways during COVID-19,” said Hesse. “Their work is especially important and noble during these difficult times.”
“While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced more taxpayer money to employers in the food processing sector,” continued Hesse. “Canadians continue to be bothered by the unfolding Cargill tragedy where workers have lost their lives and governments have failed to act to protect them.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 is the largest private-sector union in Western Canada and represents 32,000 Alberta workers mainly in the food processing and retail sectors.

Further information 

Tom Hesse

Michael Hughes
Communications Coordinator