A worker has died and more than two dozen people are sick amid an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Maple Lodge Farms poultry processing plant in Brampton, Ont., one of the largest chicken slaughterhouses in Canada.
The union representing workers at the plant confirmed that an employee died this week after becoming infected with the virus.
“On behalf of the members and staff at the Union, I offer my sincere condolences to the family of the member who passed away,” said Shawn Haggerty, President of UFCW Local 175, in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time, as well as with the other members at the plant who are also dealing with their own COVID-19 diagnoses.”
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Two current employees of the plant confirmed the death to Global News.
Carol Gardin, director of corporate affairs for Maple Lodge, declined to answer questions about the death but said a statement would be issued “later today.”
“The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is very fluid and we are committed to communicating first and foremost with our employees and Public Health,” Gardin said in an email. “At this time, we are in the midst of communicating sensitive information to our employees, who remain our number one priority.”
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There are now 25 cases of COVID-19 at the plant, according to the union, making it the latest meatpacking plant in North America to be struck by an outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Global News first reported the chicken processing company waited nearly three weeks before publicly disclosing the first positive case.
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A letter to employees dated April 16, and obtained by Global News, indicated the company became aware on April 15 that an employee had tested positive for the virus.
“The employee’s last day worked was April 6,” the letter said. “In accordance with Maple Lodge Farm’s COVID-19 protocols they have been out of the workplace and in self-isolation since learning on that date, that their spouse had tested positive for the virus.”
“The employee at that time had no symptoms.”
The company publicly acknowledged the “first positive cases” on May 4, 20 days after they became aware of the first case.
The poultry processing company said it has taken steps to deal with the outbreak including a mandatory requirement for employees to wear masks, staggered shifts to improve physical distancing and “frequent deep cleaning initiatives.”
“Peel Public Health provides directions to MLF as to what actions must be taken, which we have followed very closely, in addition to implementing any extra precautionary measures we deem necessary,” the statement continued.
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Concerned family members of workers at the Brampton plant say they are upset the company waited nearly three weeks before publicly disclosing the positive cases. Global News has agreed not to identify the family members over fears of workplace reprisal.
The spouse of one employee who is currently in isolation with a severe cough after being tested for COVID-19 said they are upset the company isn’t taking enough steps to protect workers.
“The way they are doing it is wrong,” said the spouse. “Why aren’t they shutting down? Do a deep clean, have everyone isolate for two weeks and then return.”
“I don’t think Maple Lodge employees are their main priority,” they told Global News. “They are looking for profit over people’s health.”
Meanwhile, the union said it has been in regular contact with the company, which has led to improved safety protocols including increased protective equipment, social distancing for workers and enhanced cleaning.
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