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

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

Power outages affected thousands of BC Hydro customers in the north on Jan. 14 (File photo) (File photo)
Power outages affect thousands of BC Hydro customers in northern B.C.

Transmission failure led to outages in Prince Rupert and Port Edward

A Prince Rupert port expansion project received a $25 million investment from the provincial government, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced on Jan. 14. Seen here is Ridley Terminals Inc., a coal export terminal in Prince Rupert (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)
$25 million government investment in Prince Rupert port expansion project

Prince Rupert port expansion project expected to create more than 2,200 jobs

For the second time in less than a year, Air Canada announced on Jan. 13 it has suspended flights on the Prince Rupert-Vancouver route as of Jan 17. (Photo by: Jerold Leblanc)
Cessation of flights to YPR will affect the municipal economy and global trade, P.R. Mayor said

Chamber of Commerce said it will aggressively pursue the resumption of flights to Prince Rupert

Air Canada has suspended flights to Prince Rupert Regional Airport due to COVID-19 mitigation, the airline announced on Jan. 13. (Photo:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
YPR is not immune to plummeted air travel demands – 25 jobs lost

Prince Rupert Regional Airport flight cancellation will levee significant hardship - Rick Leach

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Most Read