BROOKS, AB, Oct. 10, 2012 /CNW/ - On behalf of the 28,000 union members in UFCW Local 401, 2,200 who work at the Brooks Plant express their sympathy to the individuals who have become sick because of the E. coli outbreak. This is a tragedy that should never have happened. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the individuals for a full and speedy recovery.
The leader of the union representing workers at the XL Foods beef processing plant says there is a desperate need for an improved culture of food safety at the plant. There is a culture of fear of reprisal by the company if the workers raise concerns over food safety.
At a press conference on Wednesday, October 10, Doug O'Halloran, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, told reporters that the union has repeatedly asked XL Foods for changes that would improve food safety at their Lakeside plant in Brooks.
"Workers at XL Foods in Brooks want to be part of the solution," says O'Halloran. "They're going to be back at work in a few days, but nothing has been done to address the issues that led to this problem." O'Halloran suggests that if the culture of food safety by upper management and ownership of XL Beef in Brooks doesn't change the Union will be forced to push for new ownership in order to protect the public on food safety issues as well as the workers jobs at XL Beef in Brooks. XL has one chance to get it right.
O'Halloran adds that unions have an ethical responsibility to advance the interests of workers and the interests of the public. The union has been raising concerns about line speed, training for all workers especially temporary foreign workers and the need for whistleblower protection for years.
"The line speed is too fast on normal days," O'Halloran said. "Higher speeds in processing carcasses have led to shorter times to ensure equipment and meat is clean. On extraordinary days, when workers are missing from work, the line speed needs to be adjusted downward."
In recent years, the plant has hired an increasing number of temporary foreign workers, mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East. According to O'Halloran, XL Foods has not worked with the union to ensure that these workers have adequate training and knowledge of what their rights are.
"Whistleblower protection is particularly important for temporary foreign workers," O'Halloran said. "For a lot of the workers at the Lakeside plant are in Canada through the temporary foreign worker program. Their ability to stay in Canada is dependent on their employment, which they feel would be threatened if they came forward with their concerns. Canadian citizens who work at the plant are also afraid to come forward because of fear that they will lose their jobs."
O'Halloran adds, "There should not be a temporary foreign worker program. When these workers come to Canada and do the job, a job that is dirty, difficult, and dangerous, they should be allowed to become Canadian citizens. If they are good enough to do the job for low pay and hazardous working conditions they should automatically become Canadian citizens."
He notes that it is particularly troubling how intransigent XL Foods has been in addressing these concerns, or opening dialogue with the union. "We've dealt with other CEOs in the meatpacking industry, but we've never come across anyone who wouldn't at least meet with us to talk about food safety." O'Halloran said. "XL Foods refuses to listen to their workers and their union."
SOURCE: UFCW 401
For further information:
MEDIA CONTACT: Doug O'Halloran, President at 403-861-2000 (cell)
UFCW Local 401