A mourner places flowers at a memorial for Hiep Bui Nguyen, a Cargill worker who died from COVID-19, in Calgary, Alta., Monday, May 4, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Numb and very lost’: Alberta meat plant reopens as memorial held for Cargill worker

The plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day

The husband of a meat-packing worker who died last month remembered her as “a wonderful wife” who indulged him as he expressed his grief at a memorial Monday, the same day the plant in southern Alberta reopened after a two-week shutdown forced by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Hiep Bui, who was 67, worked at the Cargill slaughterhouse for 23 years and was responsible for picking out beef bones from hamburger meat. She became ill on her shift on a Friday, was hospitalized the next day and died on the Sunday.

“Initially she thought maybe it was a flu or a cold of some sort, (but) it was announced she truly had COVID-19. That was a very, very sad moment,” her husband, Nga Nguyen, said through an interpreter at the memorial in Calgary, 15 days after Bui died.

“I hope that Cargill will be able to control the safety at the Cargill plant so that there will not be any more victims like my wife.”

The beef-packing plant near High River, south of Calgary, closed temporarily on April 20 as cases of the illness spiked. More than 900 of 2,000 workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Nguyen and his wife were refugees from the Vietnam War and married in 1993.

“We both escaped Vietnam on the same boat and we landed in the same refugee camp. She got accepted (to Canada) first, a year before I was, and then, of course, we kept communicating, and we met here again and we got married,” he said.

“She was a wonderful wife. She spoiled me. She never argued with me. Whenever I wanted something she would buy it at all costs.”

Nguyen said the couple had lots of friends. The didn’t have any children.

He’s not sure how he will go on.

“I’m still numb and very lost. I don’t know what to do,” he said.

“I just want to end my life. I want to find a way to join my wife.”

Nguyen said he hasn’t received any expression of condolences from Cargill.

READ MORE: ‘Death is so real:’ Immigrant group says meat workers afraid after plant closure

As the first shift at the reopened plant began early Monday, a long line of cars and buses waited to enter the slaughterhouse.

The union that represents Cargill workers held a rally on the edge of the property and handed out black face masks emblazoned with “Safety First” to anyone who needed them.

“We have hundreds here for anyone who wants them,” said Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

“People are scared. They’re not coming to work. It’s a problem for everyone.”

The plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day — more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

The union, arguing conditions are unsafe for workers, is seeking a stop-work order at Cargill. Hearings before the Labour Relations Board began on the weekend and were continuing.

“We’d like to see proper personal protection equipment. We’d like to see daily, ongoing health and safety meetings,” said Hesse. “These places are hundreds of thousands of square feet with all sorts of nooks and crannies, and the company really needs to respect the voice of the workers.”

A statement from Cargill said all employees who are “healthy and eligible to work” were asked to report for work at the plant’s two shifts.

“According to health officials, the majority of our employees remain healthy or have recovered. We are grateful for our workers’ dedication and resilience as our plant and community walks through this heart-wrenching pandemic,” said the statement.

“Alberta Health Services will be on-site and we will conduct our ongoing screening to safeguard employees and ensure no one exhibiting symptoms enters the facility.”

Cargill is limiting plant access to no more than two people per car, one in the front and one in the back. It is also providing buses with protective barriers to reduce the need for carpooling.

Barriers have also been added in bathrooms and lockers have been reassigned to allow for enough spacing.

Hesse said it is important that Cargill listen to the concerns of its workers.

“These workers will not be invisible and this issue will not be invisible. Cargill is really bringing a lot of shame to the province of Alberta and Albertans aren’t going to tolerate it.”

Hesse attended Bui’s memorial and handed Nguyen an envelope stuffed with cash from her fellow employees.

“It’s very sad for me. This should not have happened,” Hesse said.

“It’s a human tragedy.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

AlbertaCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Flood warnings remain in place for areas of Cariboo Chilcotin

Risk of thunderstorms Friday evening for Williams Lake, Puntzi Mountain areas

Feds committed to protecting, restoring declining Fraser River chinook stocks says Fisheries Minister

Populations have been declining for a number of years due to habitat loss and climate change

Interior Health will not expand Police and Crisis Team

Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli asked IH to expand the program

Update: Missing woman located, confirm Williams Lake RCMP

On Friday, July 3, RCMP said she was no longer missing

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

Community infrastructure funding announced for 24 Northern B.C. projects

Recipients include municipalities, First Nations and not-for-profits

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read