XL Foods beef plant in Alberta to open Oct. 29: union

BROOKS, Alta. – There was hope Monday for workers at an Alberta beef plant closed over E. coli concerns with word from their union that the packer is to reopen in a week.

Doug O’Halloran of the United Food and Commercial Workers said the owners of the XL Foods plant in Brooks told the union that workers were being called back for three days of training starting Wednesday.

“We were sent an email saying that they were going to be doing the training and calling the people back for production on (Oct.) 29th,” O’Halloran said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it had not reinstated the beef plant’s licence. A spokesman said sanitation and meat-handling procedures were still being reviewed after an inspection run at the plant last week. He said the CFIA hoped to have an announcement about the slaughter house soon.

The agency said last week that samples from meat processed as part of the inspection came back free of E. coli.

“The CFIA has all the cards at the moment and they will play them as they see them,” O’Halloran said.

XL Foods has been at the centre of an extensive beef recall sparked by the E. coli scare and has been closed since Sept. 27. Millions of kilograms of meat have been returned to the plant from dozens of retailers across Canada and the United States.

The recalled beef is being dumped at a landfill.

The union boss said workers were sure to be pleased that a reopening of the plant appears to be on the horizon.

“I’m sure that they’re all reasonably happy that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “For the last month, there’s been no communication with the workers, so they’ve just been in limbo.

“This points to the fact things are going to get back on track.”

But he warned that a reopened plant wouldn’t be the end of the matter.

“I don’t think that everything is fixed for the long run. The CFIA has to get more inspectors in the plant. They have to give them more teeth to do their job and we still need a public inquiry to find out how this got so screwed up.”

He did not know what kind of training the workers are to be given this week.

The news Monday came as JBS USA, the company taking over management at XL Foods, was to meet with workers in groups of 100. But O’Halloran said there was no indication that those meetings had gone ahead.

He said union officials were to meet Tuesday with industrial relations staff from JBS USA.

Reaching out to the workforce and union is a positive sign for the future of Canada’s second-largest beef operation, he suggested.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” O’Halloran said. “The fact that JBS has reached out and wants to have a discussion I think bodes well.”

Neither JBS USA or XL Foods returned calls seeking comment Monday.

Brooks Mayor Martin Shields says while the CFIA hasn’t reissued the plant’s operating licence, he believes something is afoot.

“I have an idea that the people who operate the plant, I know they were in Ottawa Thursday and Friday last week, so I have an idea they know exactly what’s going to happen and that will occur.”

Shields says the plant calling in workers for training this week is good news.

“It’s been a month of confusion and not knowing, mixed in with the layoff and some real apprehension and some people leaving the community looking for work, so it’s extremely positive.”

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