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Cargill workers to vote on tentative deal today

New deal would be Canada's best food-processing contract, which includes $1,000 COVID-19 and signing bonuses
Cargill union members began voting on a tentative deal Dec. 2. (file photo)

Cargill workers will be voting on a new deal which, if approved, would be the country's best food-processing contract, the union said. 

The High River plant employs around 2,000 and they're ready to strike Dec. 6 unless a deal is in place. 

The tentative deal comes on the heels of a marathon day of negotiations Nov. 30, following a 98 per cent rejection vote of Cargill's first offer last week (Nov. 25).

"The offer is comprehensive and fair and includes retroactive pay, signing bonuses, a 21 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract and improved health benefits," Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said. 

Employees could see as much as $4,200 in retroactive pay, a $5 wage increase and improved health benefits for employees and family, including psychological care. 

"Personally, I have mixed feelings about this," said United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president Thomas Hesse. "Our members may or may not accept the offer.

"If they don't, I'll join them on the picket lines in solidarity and on strike," he said. "If they do accept it, I'll work with them every day to make Cargill a better workplace. I will do as our members ask me to do. I respect all of the emotions that they feel and the suffering that they have experienced."

Hesse said this case was particularly unique after more than 900 employees contracted COVID-19 last year and three died. 

"This is one where employees have felt trauma, fear, anxiety, they went to work scared, some of their friends died," Hesse told the Okotoks Western Wheel, noting negotiations would be challenging to quantify. 

The company's newest offer includes a $1,000 signing bonus and $1,000 COVID-19 bonus. 

Cargill union members will consider the offer and cast their vote starting today (Dec. 2) through Dec. 4. 

"We remain optimistic we can reach a deal before the strike deadline and encourage employees to vote on this offer which recognizes the important role they play in Cargill’s work to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way," Sullivan said.