CALGARY — The union representing workers at the Cargill meat processing plant in southern Alberta has paid tribute to the second employee who died as a result of COVID-19.

Benito Quesada, who was 51, was a union shop steward at the High River, Alta plant.

He died in hospital last weekend after contracting the novel coronavirus in April.

Nearly half of the 2,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak began, which led to a temporary two-week shutdown of the facility.

Quesada had been working at Cargill since 2007.

He was known in the plant as a “brown hat,” which means he served his co-workers as a union shop steward.

“Benito was a quiet, gentle, and humble man who came to Canada from Mexico to work at the Cargill plant in High River,” said UFCW 401 spokesperson, Michael Hughes.

“He always told me how proud he was for having been able to bring his family to Canada.”

UFCW 401 President Thomas Hesse said it’s important to recognize that behind the statistics are hardworking people who are trying to make a living and support their families.

He said Quesada became ill in mid-April and had been in hospital since then.

“We believe he was in a medically-induced coma on a ventilator for a considerable period of time. What he and his family must have faced over the past several weeks is unimaginable,” Hesse said.

“We are working to provide whatever support we can to the family of our brother, Benito. Our whole union grieves this terrible loss.”

Hiep Bui, who was 67, was the first Cargill worker to die on April 19. She worked at the plant 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.

Cargill said it has reached out to Quesada’s family and offered its heartfelt condolences to his wife.

“We are saddened by the loss of our colleague Benito Quesada,” the company said in a statement. “He was a dedicated employee for more than 12 years.

“Benito was a colleague and friend, serving as a partner in his role as a union steward. We are grieving with the community as we face loss and illness together. We will honour Mr. Quesada with his colleagues today and continue to fly our flag at half-mast in memory of our colleagues.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press