HIGH RIVER, ALBERTA – After weeks of negotiations between Cargill and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401, both sides came to an agreement on a contract for employees of the High River, Alberta, beef processing plant on Dec. 4.

Union workers at the plant voted 71% in favor of the contract offered by Cargill. A lockout was set to start on Dec. 6 unless a new contract was approved.

“Our employees in High River are important to Cargill’s work to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way,” said Jarrod Gillig, business operations and supply chain president for Cargill’s North American protein business. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement that is comprehensive, fair, and reflective of their commitment to excellence at Cargill and the critical role they play in feeding families across Canada.”

The company said parts of the deal include retroactive pay, signing bonuses, a 21% wage increase over the six-year contract and improved health benefits. Most of the details for the agreement were worked on by both sides on Nov. 30. Cargill said that the bargaining committee recommended the offer. 

UFCW said the deal was a “bittersweet victory.” 

“The contract is the best of its kind and presented unprecedented gains in this time of economic and political uncertainty and during the biggest health crisis the world has ever seen,” UFCW local 401 said in a statement. “A victory has been won and this is a day to celebrate. The injustices at Cargill, however, are not made right by the contract. Local 401 and its activists look to the future to enforce the new rights of Cargill workers in this unprecedented collective agreement.”

Along with the pay increase and benefits, the union said the contract provides benefits and measures to ensure worker health and safety.  

During April 2020, the facility temporarily stopped operations after close to 1,000 cases of COVID-19 were linked to the plant.

According to Cargill’s website, the High River plant employs about 2,200 employees and processes 4,700 head of cattle per day.