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

Just Posted

Chilliwack teachers and EAs concerned with health and safety plans

As schools get ready to open, many worry measures won’t be enough to protect students from COVID-19

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak declared over

Dr. Bonnie Henry hails work done to halt outbreak, which saw more than 130 people contract COVID-19

Police say Chilliwack driver who flipped car on overpass Sunday was impaired

Witnesses say rollover incident was preceded by vehicle and motorcycles speeding all over town

VIDEO: Chilliwack Tourism invites visitors to dream now and explore later

Celebrating Tourism Week with a look at Bridal Veil Falls near Chilliwack

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

VIDEO: Police look for suspect seen tripping elderly woman in Burnaby

The elderly woman was walking near the SkyTrain station when she was randomly tripped

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

Most Read