In memory of Bui Thi Hiep and Benito Quesada, two workers at the Cargill meatpacking plant in High River, Alberta, and Armando Sallegue, the father of a Cargill worker. These three people died in April-May 2020 as a result of contracting COVID-19.
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Notes, revised April 24, 2021:
When the pandemic began, the Cargill meatpacking plant in High River, AB employed approximately 2,000 workers (about 1,000 per shift). The first COVID-19 case at Cargill was diagnosed April 6, 2020, three-and-a-half weeks after the Alberta government’s March 12th ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. By April 13, 38 Cargill workers were diagnosed with COVID-19. Even with this outbreak, workers were expected to continue without adequate physical distancing at their workstations. The plant finally closed on April 20 (the day following Bui Thi Hiep’s death) for two weeks for the necessary safety overhaul. On April 22, Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw counted 440 COVID-19 cases among Cargill workers, with an additional 120 in the High River community. By May 21, more than 900 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in workers at Cargill. Most of these workers recovered.
The union representing the workers (UFCW Local 401) had asked for a safety meeting with Cargill on March 30, 2020 one week before the plant’s first COVID-19 case was confirmed. Cargill responded on April 1st that there was “limited availability” for a meeting. On April 12, 250 Filipino residents of High River signed a letter to the Mayor of High River asking him to close the plant: “We the workers and our families are worried and scared for the possibility that we might bring the virus with us at home,” the letter read. On April 18, Cargill management held a telephone town hall meeting with workers, Alberta agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen and chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw. Minister Dreeshen reassured workers that the plant had taken needed precautions and that their worksite was safe. UFCW Local 401 was not invited to participate in this town hall meeting. Cargill did not include worker representation in safety planning until May 2020, after ordered to by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, following an OHS investigation.
Benito Quesada became ill on April 9, 2020 and died in hospital on May 9, 2020 after weeks on a ventilator. Bui Thi Hiep became ill on April 16, 2020 and died in hospital on April 19, 2020. On April 23, Armando Sallegue, and his son, Cargill worker Arwyn Sallegue, were both diagnosed with COVID-19 and Armando, who had been visiting his son from the Philippines when the pandemic started, died in hospital on May 5, 2020.
On January 8, 2021, Benito’s daughter Ariana Quesada, who is 16 years old, made a formal complaint to the RCMP in High River, asking police to investigate potential criminal negligence in the death of her father.
Since May 2020 (when this song was written), two more people working in Alberta meatpacking, at Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer, died after a COVID outbreak there from November 2020 through February 2021. The plant was not shut down for a two-week break until mid-February 2021 after the death Jan. 28, 2021 of Darwin Doloque (35 years old). Henry De Leon (50 years old), who also worked at Olymel, died from COVID on Feb. 24, 2021. Some newspaper reports indicated a 3rd worker at Olymel died from COVID, but that person has not been publicly identified at the time of this writing (April 24, 2021).
This song is dedicated to the memory of these workers.
CBC News, Calgary
Dave Seglins, Sarah Rieger, Inayat Singh, January 11, 2021: RCMP launch criminal probe into COVID-19 death tied to massive Alberta meat plant outbreak; Case marks Canada’s first known police investigation into workplace COVID-19 fatality.
Joel Dryden, Sarah Rieger, Feb 6, 2021. New COVID-19 outbreak declared at Cargill meat plant in Alberta — site of Canada’s largest outbreak; Company is facing criminal investigation, class-action lawsuit for earlier outbreak.
CBC News, Edmonton
Red Deer Advocate