If there is one thing workers in today’s precariat job market need to achieve both democracy in their workplace and a shot at a middle class life style, it’s solidarity, i.e. unionization. A fine illustration of this is recent collective bargaining at the the Cargill beef-processing plant in High River, Alberta, processor of about one-third of Canada’s beef.

Only days before a planned strike and lockout, Cargill and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 reached an agreement on a new contract subsequently approved by 71 percent of the plant’s workers.

The plant became infamous in 2020 when a COVID-19 outbreak affected more than 900 people. The outbreak, linked to three deaths, forced Cargill to temporarily close the plant. As a result, safety was an important part of the negotiations. The new contract includes procedures to ensure worker health and safety, and new rights for sick employees. 

In addition, it includes $4,200 in retroactive pay for many union members; signing, holiday and COVID-19 bonuses; and a $5 wage increase.

Cargill’s president of business operations Jarrod Gillig expressed the company’s satisfaction with the deal, calling it “comprehensive” and “fair.” The union too was satisfied while indicating there was more work to be done, saying “We also look forward to the citizens of Alberta joining with us in calling for reforms and restructuring in the meatpacking industry.”

The ability of Cargill’s workers to have an equitable say in their working conditions and rewards is encouraging in a work world where too many have little or no voice at all. And seeing workers determined and optimistic about contributing to the restructuring of their industry is refreshing democratic.

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