BROOKS, Alta. – The company whose beef processing plant has been at the centre of a massive recall announced the temporary layoff Saturday of approximately 2,000 people at the facility.
The XL Foods facility has been idle since Sept. 27 while federal officials and the company deal with E. coli contamination that has been linked to 15 illnesses and has involved a recall of its products from across North America.
A company news release says its employees have been receiving full pay for the past three weeks, but the temporary layoffs are necessary because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can’t indicate when the plant will get its license back.
“We have paid our valued team members out of a commitment to our workforce and to assist them through this difficult time,” Brian Nilsson, co-CEO of XL, said in the news release.
“XL Foods is committed to the best interests of the cattle industry, our employees, the city of Brooks and all affected by the idling of the Brooks facility. We are hopeful that the CFIA will bring this to a swift and viable resolution.”
The CFIA has approved a limited reopening but says no meat will leave the facility until it has approved a full reopening.
Nilsson said getting employees back to work, as well as resuming processing, remain top priorities.
The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 401, which represents the employees at the plant, called the layoffs “poor management.”
Doug O’Halloran said that several hundred of the laid off workers may be forced to leave Brooks, which he said would create problems once the CFIA allows XL to resume normal operations.
“One of the problems in the past is that they don’t have enough workers to operate the plant at full speed, and that has caused some of the issues that led to this,” said O’Halloran.
O’Halloran said the union will begin helping employees apply for employment insurance on Monday. And he said if the layoffs continue beyond a week, the union will look at opening a food bank in Brooks.
On Thursday, the CFIA announced the first stage of what it called a progressive restart of the plant. The agency is allowing workers in the plant to cut meat from 5,100 beef carcasses under increased supervision and tougher E. coli testing standards. No new animals will be slaughtered.
There will be more tests of meat samples and increased monitoring of sanitation and hygiene, the CFIA said.
The CFIA has given no timeline for when the Brooks plant will be allowed to accept cattle again or sell its products across Canada and abroad.
The XL Foods plant is the second-largest meat packer in the country and slaughters and processes more than one-third of Canada’s beef.