September 24, 2020

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Three new COVID-19 cases at Brandon pork plant

Three more workers at the Maple Leaf Foods pork-processing plant in Brandon have tested positive for COVID-19. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun)

Three more workers at the Maple Leaf Foods pork-processing plant in Brandon have tested positive for COVID-19. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun)

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BRANDON — Three more workers at the Maple Leaf Foods pork-processing plant in Brandon have tested positive for COVID-19, the union representing workers said Thursday morning.

The UFCW local 832 said in a news release it was made aware of the three additional cases late Wednesday night. They are union employees who don't work on the production line, the release said.

Maple Leaf and the union said Wednesday that there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the plant dating back to last week. Seventy workers were said to be self-isolating as they wait for test results to come back.

"UFCW 832 is now calling for Maple Leaf to cease production until Monday, August 10, at the earliest, until we have more results from the outstanding tests among our members at Maple Leaf," UFCW local 832 president Jeff Traeger said in the release.

In a letter to provincial Health Minister Cameron Friesen sent today, the union said, "It is our understanding that numerous test results are expected back shortly. We fully expect to hear that many more of those are positive, and we strongly believe that the most prudent action is to cease production until more test results come back and we have a better sense of the trend."

Maple Leaf says it's taking precautions, has no plan to cease production and that the workers appear to have contracted the virus in the community.

"We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working," the company said in an email to the Free Press this morning. "Given our daily health screening, temperature monitoring, social distancing and the personal protective equipment all team members wear while at work, we feel confident that our plant environment is safe."

When it learned of the positive test results, it implemented a COVID-19 response plan and asked several other "team members" to self-quarantine. It notified employees, the Canada Food Inspection Agency and the union, the company said. The cases among the plant workers correspond with a recent increase in Brandon, it said.

"After a careful and detailed review of the circumstances around the cases, it appears very likely that the team members contracted COVID-19 in the community," the company said. The Maple Leaf spokesperson said they're in contact with the four infected employees, who are all recovering at home now.

The welfare of its people "is paramount," the company said. "Every day, we seek ways to strengthen our protective measures even further. Our plants and people have transformed how they operate through social distancing, plexiglass separators on production lines where possible, marks on floors to control movement in certain directions and efforts to decrease density, like staggered shifts and additional break space. These changes can be seen in a video about our efforts."

In other cases where one or more workers tested positive for COVID-19 at food-processing plants — such as at Cargill’s beef processing plant in High River, Alta. — positive cases led to shutdowns. The Calgary Herald reported that two workers at that plant died of COVID-19 and nearly 1,000 more were infected.

Some families of workers at that Cargill plant have since filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, alleging it did not take appropriate measures to keep employees and their loved ones.

Another Maple Leaf plant in Montreal had an outbreak earlier this year that led to the death of at least one employee. 

— Brandon Sun/Winnipeg Free Press

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History

Updated on Thursday, August 6, 2020 at 12:22 PM CDT: Adds comment from company

1:25 PM: adds new photo

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