With files from The Western Star
It was the news they already knew, but which was now officially confirmed. Plant workers in La Scie assembled in the cafeteria last Thursday to hear from Union representatives, and Mayor Paul Toms on the current situation relating to their plant, and what the future holds for their employment there.
The meeting, which was to start at 2:00pm, was not open to the public or the media, and was only for union members affected by the apparent decision of Daley Brothers to not operate the plant in La Scie anymore.
Workers started showing up to the meeting as much as 45 minutes early, and sat around tables talking and whispering about the latest developments and what they were hearing, and why they were there.
Others sat in silence, awaiting the inevitable and perhaps just wanting to get it over with.
When members of the Union and Council arrived, those not privy to the happenings were asked to leave. Several minutes later, people began to emerge from the meeting with looks of grievance and despair painted in their expressions – a sign that their worst fears had in fact been confirmed.
Plant worker Daisy Bishop of La Scie stopped on the way to her car and said based on what she heard inside, now she is afraid she may have to move.
“I don’t want to go away, I’m 62 years old and my husband is 64 this year,” she said.
“I have family in Halifax, we may have to go away, but I hope we can stick it out for another year.”
La Scie resident Jean Thomas has been working at the plant for 38 years and fears she’ll have to endure the same fate, based on what she heard at the meeting.
“I figured I might get another couple years here, but that might not happen,” said Thomas. “People are worried about their future, most people here are between 50 and 60, what can they do?”
Many in La Scie and workers from other communities who work in the plant have been told and hear the same story. A lack of product has forced the company to not reopen the plant this year. The company said it couldn’t find enough fishermen to supply the operation.
However, before and after the meeting last Thursday, there was crab being loaded into a truck outside the fish plant for shipment to another fish plant.
La Scie Mayor Paul Toms said after the meeting that he understands the complaint of the owners of the plant to a point, but still he agrees with local fishermen who say there is still a lot of product coming into the town and blame the company for what is happening.
Meanwhile, Transcontinental Media spoke with a number of people who say there are fishermen and local businesses that are owed money.
No one would speak on the record, but numbers as high as $75,000 dollars were spoken.
Liberal Opposition Fisheries Critic Jim Bennett has also raised concerns in the House of Assembly this week saying he understands Daley’s owes the Provincial Government a considerable amount of money as well.
“It’s sad to see this town go down like this.” - Jackie Rice, plant worker
“Our understanding is that the Daley Companies owe some $436,000 to the Workplace Health and Safety Compensation Commission (WHSCC),” said Bennett. “I twice questioned why government would issue a fish license to a company who owed money to the people of the province while placing a community at risk. The Minister was not able to provide an answer.”
Toms says the issues with the company are obvious – which is why the town has committed themselves to find a new operator and ensure the La Scie plant remains open.
“No one trusts this company; they’ve made promises that they can’t deliver on,” said Toms. “This is devastating for our town, but we have to keep our heads up and try and find another operator for this plant, that’s our top priority right now.”
The union, though, says that the time to find a new operator is not right now – but rather it’s better to wait and allow someone to come in next year, while still doing as much product as they can this year.
FFAW representative Will Reid called the meeting “frustrating.”
“We know people were expecting work and we know that the company doesn’t have the product,” he said. “We are hoping that the company will put whatever product they have through the plant to create work.”
Reid said part of the problem is that there are less resources being caught in zone 3K, where he said most of the crab comes from. But the La Scie plant could have options for other products if the right operator could be found.
“The plant could handle caplin, herring, mackerel,” he said. “It’s a good plant with a very efficient work force.”
As for the work force, though, Jean Thomas says many of them are going to find it difficult to find employment elsewhere.
“A lot of us don’t have the education to move on, some of us have Grade 8, 9, 10,” she said. “I have Grade 8, where do I go with that?”
Eight-year fish plant worker Jackie Rice said she is in her forties, and could end up in Fort Mcmurray with her family, who moved out there some time ago.
“I could go away if I got to, but I don’t want to,” said Rice. “It’s sad to see this town go down like this, there won’t be any businesses or money to provide anything and people are moving.”
Shoe Cove fisherman Jim Foster said his wife works at the plant, and the loss if income will have a big effect on his family household budget.
“I’d like to see another company take this over, but I don’t know if that will happen,” he said. “My wife works here, she brings in her money and she gets her EI so if we lose that, it won’t be good.”