The union representing employees at a major Canadian beef plant that’s been hit by the coronavirus is trying to keep the facility shut to protect workers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401 has sought a stop work order and filed an unfair labour practice complaint to try and stop Cargill Inc. from reopening its High River beef plant in Alberta on May 4, the union said Friday in a statement.

Nearly half of the plant’s 2,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the union, which says the facility should remain closed until the company can ensure the safety of workers.

The safety of Cargill’s employees are a “top priority,” and the company is engaging in good faith with the union, a spokesperson said in an email. Local government agencies have reviewed the safety measures at the High River plant and “support reopening,” Cargill said.

“We are eager to sit down and have a meaningful discussion about our shared focus — keeping our workers safe in the midst of this global pandemic,” Cargill said.

The Cargill plant accounts for about 40 per cent of Canada’s beef processing capacity and its temporary shutdown has left thousands of cows waiting for slaughter on farms and prompted McDonald’s Corp.’s local unit to start importing beef to meet its requirements amid tight domestic supplies.

“Food workers are afraid to go to work in the current environment,” UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse said. “They lack the economic security they need to recover, and they are terrified of bringing this illness to their families and communities.”

With almost 1,000 workers at the Cargill plant testing positive for the virus, about one in five cases of COVID-19 in Alberta could be linked to the facility. One employee from the High River plant has died, according to the union.