Second Alta. Olymel worker dies from COVID-19: union

EDMONTON — A second worker from Red Deer’s Olymel meat processing plant has died from COVID-19, the union that represents the facility’s workers told CTV News Edmonton Friday.

In a written statement, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 said Henry De Leon passed away Wednesday.

“I’m heartbroken and frankly enraged,” UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse said in the statement. 

“We’d made ongoing demands for a temporary closure of this Plant to ensure everyone’s safety. Instead, the Company sat on its hands and did little or nothing. Now we’re grieving a second death that might have been prevented.”

Union officials say they’re in the process of investigating the circumstances surrounding De Leon’s death. 

They add that he contracted COVID-19 shortly after the union proposed a temporary closure of the plant to the company.

“We meant it when we said that we didn’t want this to turn into another Cargill,” Richelle Stewart, secretary treasurer for the union said in the statement. “Our union has lived through this horror before. We know the early warning signs. We tried to get anyone we could to listen. But here we are again, and I’m left wondering: when will big corporations and the Government of Alberta learn?”

De Leon had been working at the Olymel plant since December 2005 after arriving to Canada from the Dominican Republic as a foreign worker 16 years ago. 

He is survived by his wife, two grown children and two grandchildren.

“Olymel would like to express that we are deeply saddened by the loss of this employee and offer our sincere condolences to the family and all of our workers at this time,” Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault said in a written statement to CTV News Edmonton.

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