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COMMENTARY · 16th September 2011
Merv Ritchie
American Workers take rare Canadian Jobs
Today the Globe and Mail is quoting John Les (now Parlimentary Secretary to the Premier of BC Clark) with this statement on employment;

"Everybody is looking for work around home, but (they) may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit,"

Really? There are jobs in Kitimat but from all reports to get one and get fair benefits of the employment at the dismantling of the Smelters at the Rio Tinto Alcan site you need to be an American. Canadians are being mistreated and for every one Canadian hired at least three are from as far away as Florida.

For three months the Terrace Daily has been receiving calls from Canadian residents; those living in Terrace, Kitimat and the lower mainland complaining about the treatment and the excessive American hiring practices while locals seem to be sidestepped or mistreated to such an extent they quit. Some of the observations are quite disturbing. In one case a pair of Iron workers observed a man using a cutting torch without the proper breathing apparatus. While dismantling the smelter lines cutting torches are used to break apart the components into manageable sections. Some of this is stainless steel and almost everything has aluminum dust and pebbles around it. Stainless and aluminum give off highly toxic gasses when burnt in this high heat fashion.

The report delivered to us details how the young men in their twenties willing work without the proper masks and breathing apparatus to not look like they are not frightened to do anything. Jobs are scarce and they don’t want to lose what they have. However the American hires all have the proper gear or are in locations that are not as hazardous.

All of the demolition work is low skilled labour; forklifts, excavators, cutting torches and general labour. This is after all a destruction job, not a fine tuned smelter construction operation. Most of these tasks require a minimum of training and the other tasks which require more, such as an excavator operator and welder, could find an abundance of local BC workers. Yet today dozens upon dozens of jobs easily performed by local workers are being taken up by imported Americans.

One just has to take a short drive around Kitimat and look at all the licence plates. It is like taking an American Geography lesson.

And then there is the salt in the wound. The American workers are provided a Living Away From Home Allowance (LOA) of between $135 to $140. Canadians are expected to stay in the bunkhouses or are provided a gas stipend of $20/day. This has created an environment of disharmony and distaste.

Wages haven’t been the issue; it has been the immigration without offering to jobs to Canadians first. Some claim the Companies doing the remediation work have side stepped the rules calling almost all the new workers supervisory or highly skilled staff.

In 2002 the same type of controversy happened on the other side of the border. Canadians were hired at a higher rate than offered to the American workers in Portland, Maine. Protests outside the gates of the facility took place and the Unions were quite bluntly ‘pissed’. Hiring was happening across the border in Canada and non Union workers were brought in.

There are dozens of former Eurocan workers and ex logging company locals who are struggling to make their mortgage payments. Watching all the American plates drive by, parked at the bars and restaurants, sporting happy employed smiles would be enough to send a poor long time resident into a tizzy.

Safety standards are being sidestepped and complaining might see you out of work while a compliant son or father of a “Supervisory staff member” from Alabama will arrive to take your place.

As many of those employed now state to a new hire, “Welcome to the shit show”.

It is against the rules to bring in a camera or recording device, the place is a security lockdown. Getting to the truth and to the straight goods is a near impossibility but the evidence is with the unemployed middle aged worker in Terrace and Kitimat and the numerous USA workers now living and working at the smelter site. It doesn’t take a genius.

And what was that Minister Les said? Oh yeah,

"Everybody is looking for work around home, but (they) may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit,"

The appropriate response from Les would be to get his government to raid the entire site and see just what is going on there. A surprise visit with WorkSafe BC would be fun. But that would take a government with a backbone, (notice how I avoided using that other word, balls?) one that would stand up for the average British Columbian, the working stiff. But then we all know the BC Liberal record on that issue.

And Dear Mr. Les, pray tell, where are these jobs in Terrace you mention?
onlythe residents of kitimat and P.R. to blame.
Comment by Patrick on 9th October 2011
Then put a blockade and bring in WCB, the government people reponsible for this debacle. You expect us to do it for you Kitimat???
Blame Yout Government
Comment by DR on 26th September 2011
In hard hit northern BC communities like Kitimat are still reeling from the loss of two major industries and the hundreds of jobs. International companies like Bectel are not to blame. BC Liberal government policy clearly demonstrates that they could care less, have cared less, and continue to care less about Northern communities.

For a Canadian to get a job in the United States the employer has to prove that an American is not available to do that job.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 21st September 2011
I am willing to bet you are American and voted for the Republican party .You sound like one of those looney tea party guys.
get your facts straight greg!!!
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 21st September 2011
Wow Greg I doubt you are even Canadian.And if you are you have got it wrong ,the safety standards are so stringent at the site that it actually slows down the pace of work.That is Bechtels fault,not the workers. And as far as unskilled labour goes ,yes there are a lot of rookies working on the site but this is because that was part of the agreement to keep the locals employed. The Unions have actually been kind enough to realize times are tough in the area and rather than insisting on all employees being dispatched from Union hiring halls they have encouraged local companies to hire local people and give them apprenticeships. As far as having to bring in Americans to do the job you are full of it. I don't want to say any thing derogatory about the American workers.Whether I like them working here or not is not the point,They have been cleared to work here so they are here. There are Many Canadian contractors that can do this job, but I assume that Bechtel is familiar with these contractors and has a working relationship with them from jobs they do all over the world. Whether we like it or not business is done this way ,you scratch my back I scratch yours. It is unfortunate that when times get tough it brings out the worst in people. So lets nip the problem in the bud and not bring Citizenship into the equation .
Comment by Greg on 21st September 2011
Dear Editor,

Your article on the Kitimat job was full of lies.

The Canadian workers are unsafe, untrained, and apathetic. The Canadian brand of socialism has ruined these workers to the point that the Americans MUST bring in thier own people to be profitable and safe.

Our unions lied to the Americans that we could provide skilled union labor, when in fact we can only provide lazy, unsafe, spoiled rotten union thugs to satisfy the contractual requirements that the Americans hire Canidians first. This didn't work for them and now they have brought in thier own to be able to complete this job.

So, when you start inciting riots, you should at least get your facts straight...unless you care nothing about facts and only desire to incite a riot against the Americans...who have come here to do a job that we can not. If we could, why did we hire the Americans in the first place?

Because I fear retribution, I remain annomous.

Care to write a retraction or correction?
Safety First?
Comment by Merv Ritchie on 19th September 2011
It is common knowledge, on site, that safety only comes first when it is expedient. Case in Point is the safety meetings. Face masks are imperative to protect from the noxious fumes. Therefore safety meetings used to be held away from the smelter action. Today, to save time, safety meetings are held in the hallways in the smelter and the full face masks apparently are now not necessary. That is until the "Safety" meeting is over.

Safety is not first. Never has been in all the mines I worked at either. Men and women have died due to expediency trumping safety. Quintette Coal is the best example. Two died while the company, with full knowledge and advance warning, saw two die, a guy and a girl, breaching almost every safety rule in the book.

I know because I was the B shift safety rep and still have the pictures and evidence.

The closest example currently is Rio Tinto Alcan allowing the subcontractors to Bechtel to run their own safety programs.

In this case the deaths will occur years later from cancer.

No, whoever this anonymous person is, safety is not the priority, profit is. If it can be performed safe, while making maximum profit, well that's the bonus, nothing else.
not really
Comment by skeena7 on 19th September 2011
anyone that works onsite knows this commentary is not accurate especially regarding the safety. Safety is the number one priority for all workers.
Thats not all.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 18th September 2011
The Conservative trying to make it easier to bring in American workers. I am sure they are doing this because of the Buy American legislation Obama is trying to pass. By showing a sign of good faith i am assuming he hopes the Americans will go easy on us.Harper is a dangerous man, he is secretly negotiating deals that will give up our special forces from both the Canadian and US sides being able to cross each others borders to chase so called terrorists. One of many plans he is negotiating.
NDP's Supposed Explanation
Comment by T on 16th September 2011
Thank you for having the guts to finally address this issue....upon recently speaking to the NDP representative of the area, when asking about these exact issues I was told this: BC (Kitimat in general), has not protected the local hire requirement. There is no local hire requirement. None.

My question is this: doesn't that mean partly the NDP didn't do their job since they are in charge around here????

These companies are bringing in temporary "immigrant" workers (read americans), under the new temporary work permit that is available to foreigners to come here and work for just under two years with different pay/benefit arrangements.

I was under the impression it was cheaper for the company but am now learning that our local workers are the lowest paid on the site, with no benefits, no trans. fund of $20 as suggested in your article, and are being harrassed by the American workers. Extremely harrassed!

We won't even talk about the safety issues that everyone is afraid to address or lose their job.

In my opinion the foreigners should at the very least behave and remember: they are guests here. My understanding is that alot of them come from Texas and I recently read that Texas is so badly in a job recession that families are living with their children in shelters after loosing their homes. Maybe they should remember that and be grateful and act like decent human beings and not a bunch of girly prima-donnas who get special everything.

And...stop hassling/harrassing the local workers! I have heard about this from many local sources. Theses companies should be ashamed of the behavior of their employees in town and on the job site - the last thing americans need is an even worse reputation... show some respect!