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COVID-19

Red Deer Public Schools keeping Educational Assistants on for an extra month

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From Red Deer Public Schools

Red Deer Public lays off support staff on June 1

Saturday’s announcement that the provincial government was reducing funds to school divisions across the province will result in the layoff of educational assistants effective June 1. There will be no more assignments for substitute teachers. Contracted services by our bussing contractor are suspended for the remainder of the school year.

Funding from the province to Red Deer Public Schools has been reduced by $1.45 million. In total, the government is expected to reduce funding to Alberta school jurisdictions by a total of $128 million, which will be directed to support the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

“When classes were cancelled two weeks ago, the focus of all our staff shifted to continuity of learning and supporting our 11,000 students having to learn from home,” said Board Chair Nicole Buchanan.

“Red Deer Public understands that our province and nation are significantly impacted by the many challenges we are facing in 2020. We are keenly aware of the significant challenges that students, the families we serve and our community are facing,” said Buchanan.

With online learning for 11,000 students off to a successful start last week the division wanted to ensure all students were actively engaged in learning. “We received really great feedback after a week of learning from home. When we established our plans for continuity of learning, our educational assistants and support staff played an important role in the delivery,” said Superintendent Stu Henry. “Our top priority is to continue to provide great teaching and learning to our students while they are home.”

Given the funding reduction, the District looked at all aspects of its budget to maximize student learning. “We wanted to support continuity of learning as much as possible. Through overall cost savings through reduced operations within our schools and the division, we are now able to defer the layoffs to educational assistants until June 1 rather than May 1 as originally planned,” said Henry. “This will allow us to use educational assistants to maintain our plans to support learning from home, particularly in these early stages. We can also provide targeted support to students with special needs, including those PUF students in pre kindergarten.”

While the initial announcement identified where reductions should take place, decisions have been left to school boards to determine where the reductions are best made. “We are still meeting our funding reductions announced by the government. Yes, these funding reductions are tough, but by respecting the local autonomy of school boards to make the best decisions, the government knows that we are in a far better place to make decisions that maximize student learning and have the least impact on students as well as staff,” said Chair Buchanan.

Today the District informed staff of the following layoffs:

  • 258 Educational Assistants – effective June 1

  • Substitute Teachers – no more assignments effective March 31

  • Contracted services by our bussing contractor are suspended for the remainder of the school year

  • At this point, we are not anticipating nor planning further reductions to staffing.

“We are incredibly proud of how staff in all of our schools have responded to these challenging times, said Chair Buchanan. “‘We’re in this together’ is the rallying cry for this pandemic crisis. Our support staff have played an important role throughout the school year and had really stepped up as we’ve responded to this unprecedented pandemic. While they still face layoffs June 1, fortunately we have been able to minimize the impact of this funding reduction to students and staff. Yes, we will get through this together!”

6 more cases of COVID in Central Alberta, 57 in total – (April 1 update)

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Alberta

Alberta Opposition calling for Olymel Outbreak Inquiry

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From the Alberta NDP

NDP DEMANDS PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO OLYMEL OUTBREAK,  CALLS FOR PROTECTION FOR WORKERS, NOT CORPORATIONS

Alberta’s NDP is demanding an immediate public inquiry into the mishandling by both the UCP government and Olymel of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a meat-processing plant in Red Deer, and is seeking a commitment from the Minister of Justice that he will not intervene with legislation to protect potentially negligent corporations from lawsuits launched by victims’ families.

As of Wednesday, at least three Olymel employees had died as a result of the outbreak, which began in November and has seen more than 500 cases of COVID-19 confirmed to date. The NDP has also learned that three employees are currently fighting for their lives in intensive care. The Government of Alberta ignored calls for the plant to be closed, even as cases skyrocketed.

“We need to get to the bottom of who is responsible for these senseless, tragic deaths,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley. “People with no choice but to continue working in unsafe conditions have gotten sick and died. We need to hold those responsible accountable and develop new practices to prevent tragedies like this in the future.”

During a town hall meeting Tuesday night, UCP Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu was working on legislation to eliminate liability in relation to COVID-19 illness and death for corporations and businesses

“This Government should focus on preventing workers from further injury and death, not covering up the negligence that’s already occurred around these tragedies,” Notley said. “We call on the UCP Government to reverse these plans.”

The NDP is also demanding an inquiry into the Olymel outbreak and the overall history with respect to worker safety in the meat-processing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Olymel outbreak is now the deadliest linked to a meat-processing plant in Alberta during the pandemic. The outbreak at High River’s Cargill plant last year saw two workers die and more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19 confirmed — it remains the largest since in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Overall, while meat-packing plants have occurred in several other provinces, only in Alberta have people died, with the number currently standing at six,” Notley said.

The NDP is also supporting the call from the United Food and Commercial Workers that the Olymel plant not reopen as planned Thursday and remain closed until worker representatives are satisfied that enhanced health and safety protocols have been put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“We find ourselves in the same crisis as we were with Cargill,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “Albertans should remember that the UCP’s own Agriculture Minister lied to those workers and told them the plant was safe just days before the operator shut it down,”

MLA Gray previously called for a formal inquiry into the Cargill outbreak and another at the JBS plant in Brooks that saw more than 650 workers infected and one die. To date, the call for an inquiry has been ignored by the UCP.

“Clearly Jason Kenney and the UCP don’t care about the workers in these plants,” Gray added. “We know that a survey of Olymel workers found three quarters feel nervous or scared to return to work and do not trust the employer to keep them safe. As well, over half of the workers surveyed said they didn’t trust the UCP Government to keep them safe.

“How does this Premier possibly justify allowing this plant to reopen when he hasn’t done a thing to reassure these workers that they won’t become sick or potentially die?”

The NDP will also be drafting a letter to Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu that demands he rule out legislative protection for Olymel, Cargill and JBS. A class-action lawsuit has already been launched against Cargill.

“The UCP wants to let these massive, profitable corporations wash their hands of these horrific incidents and, meanwhile, grieving families of lost loved ones will see nothing but more pain and suffering,” Notley said. “This government has a long track record of backing wealthy CEOs and screwing over workers. Enough is enough.”

In the U.S., 16 states have brought in legislation or immunity provisions to protect businesses and corporations from liability related to the pandemic.

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Alberta

‘A frightened workforce’: Union worries as Olymel reopens after COVID-19 shutdown

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RED DEER, Alta. — Some employees of a pork processing plant in central Alberta that shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility are afraid to go back to work, the union president says.

Olymel’s facility in Red Deer was shut down Feb. 15 because of the COVID-19 outbreak that claimed three lives and infected 515 workers.

The company announced late Wednesday it had been given approval to gradually reopen by Alberta Health. Slaughter operations are scheduled to resume today and cutting room operations on Friday. The plant processes about 10,000 hogs per day.

UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse said he received no word from the company that the plant was reopening.

“Obviously the bottom line for Olymel is they’re just putting pigs ahead of people,” Hesse in an interview Wednesday.

“What you’ve got is a frightened workforce. There’s this enormous amount of fear and anxiety, and now a layer of grief on top of that, and they expect employees to jump to attention and parade back to work.”

The union represents about 1,800 workers at the plant.

Hesse said the union interviewed between 600 and 700 workers who indicated they were afraid to return to work. He said that wasn’t done by Olymel, Alberta Health Services or Occupational Health and Safety.

Hesse said he expects some workers will take advantage of their right to refuse unsafe work.

“I have no confidence in the safety of the workplace,” he said.

Olymel said the reopening will come with a number of strict measures. Alberta Health experts will be on site when operations resume and will offer rapid testing. The company said 1,370 employees at the plant have been tested since Jan. 1.

The company says it has added more space to the facility to enhance physical distancing.

Additional staff have been assigned to monitor and enforce the updated measures, Olymel said. Employee groups have been recalled to take part in training sessions covering all implemented health measures, adjustments and the action plan developed for reopening.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press

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