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Give frontline food production workers vaccine, says Cargill union

'They should get a vaccine opportunity as soon as possible and with as little problems as possible,' says union spokesperson
20200424 Cargill Dunlop Plant KA
File photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Despite the province’s stay-at-home order, there are a wide array of people who will continue going to work in order to keep society healthy and fed. Those folks should be prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, says the union representing workers at Cargill Canada’s Guelph facilities.

“They should get a vaccine opportunity as soon as possible and with as little problems as possible,” said Tim Deelstra of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals 175 and 633. “It would be great if there could be a clinic set up directly at the work site to make it as accessible and easy as possible.”

There is a plan in development that would see workers at a Cargill plant in High River, Alberta, immunized, in light of outbreaks there, as part of that province’s vaccination rollout. No such plans exist in Ontario, at least publicly.

“We’ve been calling for priority access for workers on the frontline of this … since vaccines were available. It’s just one more measure that can keep people safe,” said Deelstra. “At Cargill in Guelph, we’ve had a substantial outbreak twice at one of the facilities.”

Cargill Canada is working with local health authorities and medical experts in an effort to have workers gain access to vaccines “without jeopardising the prioritization of essential healthcare workers and others at extreme risk,” commented Cargill spokesperson Daniel Sullivan in an email.

“We will prioritize our frontline workers whenever we can, as they continue to work tirelessly to keep our food system going strong,” he said. “Because we know vaccines don’t work without vaccinations, we also will join local health authorities in promoting the importance of vaccination among our employees.

“We’re optimistic that vaccines will play a critical role in slowing and stopping the devastating impacts of COVID-19 across the globe.”

During Wednesday’s provincial government news conference, it was announced that mobile vaccination clinics would be set up in “high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and locations occupied by large employers in hot spot neighbourhoods.” The UFCW, which also represents grocery store and pharmacy workers, would like to see it expanded throughout the province.

“For all the messages of thanks these workers have heard, what they’re still waiting for is real action from the government. People are dying and health experts are sounding the alarm,” said Shawn Haggerty, president of UFCW local 175, in a news release. “Lip service isn’t good enough. Premier Ford must take real action to keep these workers safe and healthy so that they can continue to provide vital goods and services.”