Maple Leaf Canada will start paying workers at its production and distribution facilities, including those at the Brandon plant, an extra $80 a week during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced on Monday.
The president of the union representing workers at the Brandon plant said that in effect, it will be an extra $2 an hour for workers up to a maximum of $80 per week.
Jeff Traeger, the president of UFCW Local 832, said he’s appreciative of the extra support, but both he and the national union don’t believe that the Maple Leaf initiative nor current plans put forward by the federal government to support workers during the pandemic is sufficient.
"It’s significant, $2 an hour if paid for the whole year would be $4,000," he said. "Do I think it’s far enough? No. And I said the same thing when we saw that in the retail stores because these people are coming to work, they’re working extremely hard and they’re putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure we all have food on the table.
"I also know that employers right now are doing very well, especially in retail with the volume and Maple Leaf and other pork producers because of the ability to sell their product in Asia right now. They’re all making lots of money so we think they should be going a little further to share it with our members."
Traeger added that the union thinks a $5 per hour bonus would be warranted. They believe that no one should be making less than $15 an hour right now, because that’s the poverty line in the province.
On a national scale, Traeger said that UFCW started lobbying the federal government on Monday to switch to the European model of unemployment insurance during the pandemic where an employee getting laid off or self-isolating keeps getting paid and receiving benefits from their employer while getting subsidies to cover the cost from the government.
When it comes to measures being taken at the plant to keep workers safe and healthy, Traeger is much more on board with what is being done.
"They’re actually trying to be as progressive with that as possible," he said.
He said that Maple Leaf is taking the temperature of every employee entering the plant to make sure no one is coming inside with a fever. Inside the plant, breaks are being spread out as much as possible to encourage social distancing and visitors have been barred from entering the facility.
Sanitization efforts have also been stepped up for both equipment and common areas in the plant.
Employees turned away at the door or not feeling well and having to stay at home are getting paid for the first week through a benefits plan held in joint trust by the company and UFCW.
For the second week and beyond, employees are asked to apply for employment insurance, and Maple Leaf is topping up the difference between those payments and the money they receive from their weekly indemnity plan.
"I think that what Maple Leaf has done has gone very far," Traeger said. "We’d always be interested in hearing newer and better ways to make sure that our members are protected at work."
Maple Leaf also announced $2 million in funds on Monday going to emergency food relief efforts in Canada on top of the $500,000 the company already committed last week.
Additionally, Maple Leaf announced it would be giving $2.5 million to the Canadian Frontline Healthcare Professionals Protection Fund in support of front line medical workers.