The temporary layoffs at XL Foods' meat processing plant in Brooks, Alberta, caught employees and union leaders off guard, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
"The employees have a fear, they don't understand what is going on," plant employee Abdi Nasir Guir told the CBC. "So many people today were crying because they have car payments, they have mortgages. Even if you ask how long is it going to be closed here they don't tell you. They don't have a date; that's the biggest problem we are having."
Doug O'Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said he had thought the company was on track to solve the tainted meat problem following positive comments from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and XL Foods.
"The CFIA was saying how everything was good and ... [one of the owners], a Nilsson brother, was in the paper there saying, 'You know, it's going to be business as usual, we've got everything done,'" he said.
"We were expecting ... a few layoffs, but there was no way we anticipated that we'd have everybody laid off."
XL Foods' license remains under suspension, but on Thursday, the Brooks plant was given permission to resume limited meat processing under CFIA supervision.
XL Foods co-Chief Executive Officer Brian Nilsson said in a statement the company is "hopeful that the CFIA will bring this to a swift and viable resolution."
Authorities said Friday three more E. coli cases have been linked to the Brooks plant, bringing the total number of cases to 15.