BRANDON, MANITOBA – Employees working at a Maple Leaf Foods pork processing plant in Brandon, Manitoba, said they want the plant closed for two weeks because of COVID-19 cases among plant workers. A letter posted to the Facebook page of Migrante Manitoba, a local organization that advocates for the rights and welfare of migrants, urged the provincial government and Maple Leaf Foods to:
- Shut down the facility immediately for two weeks;
- Implement the deep cleaning for the whole facility;
- Ensure all employees to get tested for COVID-19; and
- Ensure all employees are provided job security and wage protection while the plant is closed.
The letter went on to state that, as of Aug. 21, 70 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among plant workers.
“The workforce at Maple Leaf in Brandon is very diverse, with employees coming from all over the world. Many of our co-workers are migrant workers, and many feel their voices are not being heard,” the letter said. “The claim from the Maple Leaf President and CEO as well as the provincial government that the employees’ cases are linked to community gatherings and interactions, and are not linked to the plant is unacceptable.
“Many of our co-workers have limited interactions with the community outside of the facility, while seeing confirmed cases rising. It is clear that the spread of COVID among workers at Maple Leaf is a direct result of our employment at Maple Leaf, and the working and living conditions we endure while working for this company.”
In response, Janet Riley, vice president of communications and public affairs at Maple Leaf Foods, said the company prioritized worker safety.
“Public Health and officials have said repeatedly that they have found no evidence of workplace transmission and the cases that have occurred among our team members appear to be linked to events and interactions within the community,” Riley said.
“Because they have found no evidence of workplace transmission, our plant remains safe to operate and Public Health and Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials agree. In fact, Public Health officials have said that our plant has ‘gone beyond Public Health recommendations.’”
Riley added that the most recent deep-cleaning of the Brandon plant was Aug. 23, and another is scheduled for Aug. 26.
“We do a full nightly sanitation of all production areas, deep clean common areas two times per week, and clean all touch points at a minimum of every two hours throughout all shifts,” Riley said.
The letter listed some examples of what workers feel is a lack of concern for the welfare of plant employees and promoted the spread of the disease.
“On April 18, 2020, during the pandemic, the facility changed the staff locker area, and made the area very crowded and impossible to keep physical distancing for workers,” the letter said. “The facility also didn’t consider new health measures for washrooms. There are no measures to keep physical distancing for workers, no staggered times for washroom access, and workers often go to the washroom at the same time.” Other examples included lack of handwashing stations and hand sanitizer in the cafeteria.
The workers also allege that since the week of Aug. 17, doctors stopped issuing notes for sick leave.
“All the above examples show the lack of health measures at the Maple Leaf facility during COVID-19,” the letter stated.
Riley said the company takes the concerns raised in the letter seriously and remains open to suggestions to strengthen the safety measures already in place. The company published a video about Maple Leaf Foods’ COVID-safety efforts that can be found here.
“People safety will remain our top priority and we will continue to conduct daily health and temperature screenings, require masks and other personal protection equipment, use social distancing in the plant and use plexiglass separators between workstations,” she said. “We’ve even brought trailers in to enable our team members to spread out during breaks.”