Cargill Inc.’s unionized workers in one of Canada’s largest beef processing plants rejected the company’s latest wage offer, prompting the meatpacker to consider shifting operations to other facilities as a strike deadline looms.

The union representing workers at Cargill’s plant in High River, Alberta voted on and rejected a contract offer by a 98 per cent margin, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union Local 401 said in a late Wednesday email. The union said members will go on strike at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 6 unless a deal can be reached, affecting operations at a plant that accounts for roughly 40 per cent of Canadian beef processing capacity.

Cargill is “optimistic” it can reach an agreement before the deadline and is willing to keep meeting with the union to avoid a labor disruption that “is in no one’s best interest during an already challenging time,” company spokesman Daniel Sullivan said Thursday in an emailed statement.

“While we navigate this negotiation, we continue to focus on fulfilling food manufacturer, retail and food service customer orders while keeping markets moving for farmers and ranchers,” Sullivan said. “If necessary, we will shift production to other facilities within our broad supply chain footprint to minimize any disruptions.”

The labor dispute with the closely held U.S. company comes as Canadian beef prices have soared and as workers in the food supply chain push for higher pay. Companies are struggling to hire workers and retain enough staff to cope with surging demand as the economy emerges from a pandemic slump. Meat workers have complained about health and safety after a COVID-19 outbreak last year sickened half the High River plant’s staff, prompting a temporary shutdown.

“Cargill workers have told their employer through another overwhelming vote that they matter and that they deserve something more,” UFCW Local 401 President Thomas Hesse said in a statement. “We will be communicating the result to Cargill and asking them to return to the bargaining table to respond to our members.”

The union declined further comment.