Sunday, October 14, 2012

XL foods

There is a lot of controversy over the XL Foods closure and I have been reading comments on my local tv FB page regarding the layoff this weekend of 2000 workers. Apparently 800 are going to be recalled for Tuesday, so it's a bit confusing right now. Anyway, a few people commented that if there weren't so many immigrant workers there who do not speak very good english, maybe some of these problems could have been avoided.

You can imagine that sparked a lot of controversy, and other people calling the poster racist, etc. But I noticed a few other replies peppered in there from women who worked at the plant and they said they had to agree with the original guy. One person stated that out of his 200 person crew, only 10 spoke fluent english.

Now, I happen to think it is a problem at all levels, from the floor right up to the top. My best friend's husband worked at Lakeside Packers for over 10 years and was a foreman. He quit about 7 years or so ago due to many reasons. But I distinctly recall him getting frustrated with his cutting room crew because so many did not speak good english and it was hard to explain to them what they needed to do. He spoke often of how he kept getting trouble, being the foreman and all, for the jobs not being done right. So he would head to the shop floor over and over again to talk to his crew and explain why they needed to do things a certain specific way, but many did not understand at all. He could show them, but then 10 mins later they were doing things wrong again. Doing things their own way. He had many immigrants from the former Yugoslavia on his crew, but most were from Sudan and Zimbabwe. He found that his biggest barrier was that they did not understand the full impact of how careful we are with our food here, and how there are many rules for handling the product. I can only go by what this guy told me because I have never worked there, but I can certainly attest to the fact that a lot of immigrants work there. I'm not saying it's a bad thing - obviously a lot of local people don't want to work in a slaughterhouse and spend their days cutting up beef carcasses, so someone has to do it if we want to find the product on our grocery store shelves. But at the same time, I do have to wonder if what the man posting on  my local TV station site is correct.

We have had numerous families at my daycare center where the parents worked at Lakeside soon after moving to Canada. The place is always hiring, a lot of people work there, and if you need money to feed your family, it's a place to start. I had Bosnian moms coming back from work crying their eyes out because they hated the job so much. When I was in physio years ago for my wrists, half the people in there worked the cutting rooms at Lakeside and had repetitive strain injuries and tendonitis, and almost all of them were from other countries and were just learning english. I spent 6 weeks in physio and probably met 50 foreign workers from Africa and various countries from the former Yugoslavia. I met two that were locals. So far everyone I have personally seen interviewed on the news (CTV and CBC national) were new Canadians/immigrants.

I am not trying to say they should not work there, but if what these workers say is true, perhaps some thought should be put into it. And yes I am sure there are local people who get lazy and dont follow all the rules either, but do people who do not speak english well and come from other countries without regulations such as ours really UNDERSTAND the reasons for the rules and regs? I have traveled to many foreign countries and I have been completely horrified at some of the food markets. It makes me gag to think about it lol.

I remember in Mexico, taking a tour of a popular daily food market. I was so excited to go, but about 30 seconds in, I was ready to throw up all over the place. The meat was just out there, in the sun, with flies crawling all over it, disgusting, bare handed butchers handling the meat and then wiping their hands on their filthy aprons before handling more meat. Full pig heads hanging from hooks and dripping blood onto meat below. I was revolted LOL. I guess growing up in Canada did not prepare me for food markets in other countries. I even saw yucky stuff in England and Germany. Yucky to me anyway ;) I grew up around farms and saw chickens being killed for supper, calves being castrated, I have collected eggs with chicken poo on them, etc and I have never been so disgusted as I have been at foreign food markets. I didnt want to eat any more meat at all while I was in Mexico, and I didnt except I gave in one night to trying some chicken breast lol.

A point to note about ecoli is that if people cook it properly, they shouldn't get sick anyway. So those who got sick here should think twice about how they prepare their meat. It's possible that every single one of us has had some meat with ecoli, but we killed the bacteria when we cooked it right. So that would help too - it's not just those in the meat plants who are responsible for making sure we are safe!

But in the end, it could be a question to ask yourself - should newly immigrated people be working in places that feed millions of north americans? Should people who do not speak and understand english or french fluently be in charge of preparing the meat we put on our tables? Or does it make no difference at all and as long as all employees are following the regulations and rules, everything should be okay?

This may be a bad time to tell the story of a daycare family who had lived in Canada for 3 years and spoke pretty good english, but sent a can of DOG FOOD for their daughter's lunch one day. It was co-op gold brand dog food in a black can, and it said Beef Chunks in big letters, but 'Dog Food' in smaller letters below. I was mortified. I wondered about the stew the little girl had been eating all week and gagged. My boss took the mom aside later when she came to pick her up, so they could talk privately about it and assure her that we made a different meal for her daughter. The mom started crying and said they had been eating it for TWO WEEKS! She was very upset but she had originally nodded when my boss pointed to the words Dog Food on the can, like 'yeah? okay?'. My boss had to further explain that this was food to FEED TO a dog, not a human, NOT for people to eat. That's when the mom started crying. So we have no idea if the mom thought it was dog meat (as in FROM a dog) for people to eat, or what. No idea and we didn't want to know. The family was from Sudan, had 5 children, and they were professional people - she was a nurse back home, and he was a paramedicine instructor. They worked for the UN and came to Canada after receiving death threats for working in UN hospitals. They were a great family and our daughters were best friends for 4 years of daycare. But - what happened with the dog food? The way the mom was acting, she either did not understand at all what was going on, or thought it was dog meat, or something. Who knows. I also dont know how they got the cans or who gave it to them  - the can I pulled out of the lunch bag that day was dented badly, like something you might get from the food bank. They lived in community housing and pets are not allowed, so im not sure why someone would give them dog food. I have no clue. But these were learned people, living in Canada for 3 years by then, spoke good english, and yet they were eating dog food for 2 weeks without realizing it. Honest mistake? I dont know - so what could go on in a huge beef processing plant where several hundred workers are newly immigrated to Canada from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, etc over recent years?

Am I 'racist' for questioning such a thing? Or am I perhaps more concerned about differences in cultures and language barriers when it comes to food regulations?

I would also like to point out that people who currently work there and have worked there in recent years said that there is also a problem with Gangs. The town of Brooks, where XL Foods is located, is very small but has grown over the past decade, partly due to people working at XL/Lakeside Packers. There are stories in the news a lot about gangs there (lots for such a small city) - and the beef processing plant has to deal with that too? Get real! This is southeastern alberta, not New York or Philadelphia!  The population of the city itself last year was just over 12,000. That's it, that's all. But Brooks was the focus of a documentary called The City of 100 Hellos due to the great diversity of cultures represented there. I have seen govt documents/reports online saying they found no evidence of gang activity in brooks, but you read the paper and have to wonder. You see the names and read the crimes, and can guess where the people come from. Don't get me wrong - almost every murder and violent act in my city is done by local white people, but in that little city that no one had heard of until this XL Foods mess, there is a disproportionate number of immigrants arrested for serious crimes. One only has to read the local paper there to see that for themselves. But we are not allowed to talk about that or we will be called Racist. I thought about writing this piece for 3 days before finally getting the guts to do it - so imagine that I would never say it outloud outside my house!


  1. if we are importing people who cannot communicate in english, then these people should be required to speak english and read english before they are hired to do any job that the inability to speak or read could cause a problem.

  2. It's a tough case. I know that if I said this out in public, I would be ridiculed just like the commenters on my local TVs blog were. But at the same time, I work with families on a daily basis who came to Canada speaking little-to-no english and even after being here for many years, have trouble understanding simple things.

    Just this past week we had an issue to do with that. We had put out a letter about a field trip we were taking the children on. It was in a letter, and we had the dates and times on a permission slip that each parent had to read and sign in front of us, and we had two signs up on the doors to remind everyone, but our ukrainian family did not understand. They have lived here more than 3 years and both parents work full time (one in oil and gas, the other at a health spa), but the mother arrived with her son just as we were boarding the bus. She looked very confused and said 'where are you going?'. We told her we were taking the kids to the pet store and if she had been 2 minutes later, we would have all been gone. I showed her the letter I had given everyone, and she said "I didnt know". I showed her the permission slip that SHE signed, and the two signs on the doors that said to have the children at the center by 9am, and she looked very confused and befuddled. I was very nice, don't get me wrong, but as soon as she left, all 5 teachers were like whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?? If she did not understand the notes and the letter and the permission form, she could have asked. I know it's embarassing to keep asking - I lived in Germany for 2 years and had no idea what was going on sometimes and I wanted to cry in frustration - but I would take anything I didnt understand over to my german neighbour and she would go over it with me. Or I would ask my husband at the time, who was fluent in german, and he would help me. I took French for 6 years in school so I was flumoxed ending up in Germany lol. Wrong lang choice in school apparently!

    Anyhow if this mom worked at XL foods and did not understand something, would she ask? Would she sign stuff that she clearly had no idea about? She did it right in front of me and I told her outloud what she was signing and where and when we were going (which was also in writing on the paper she signed), but she did not understand. How many other people are out there that do this? And i will throw in a disclaimer that I realize there are english speaking people who sign things they do not understand as well, or forget that their is a field trip and come late, or whatever, but there is a much higher chance of this sort of thing happening if there is a language barrier. That's just a fact.



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