Labor issues further stress maxed out processors
Aside from massive fish harvest, Petersburg canneries felt the added pressure of worker walkouts and no shows. This summer was the first time the companies couldn’t hire foreign student workers coming on J1 Visas after the federal government ended the program in an attempt to provide more jobs to American workers.
Some estimates early in the season put no show rates between 15-20 percent.
A local manager said working with a changed employee pool combined with peak production was a “double whammy.”
“There were less workers in the pool and more expectations from them,” he said.
Veteran cannery leads at Petersburg Fisheries Kandi Adams and Sharlay Murdock felt the whammy as they worked back-to-back days during the onslaught.
“Since June 17 it was 16 to 18 hour days for three months,” Murdock said.
“And that’s not just one day,” Adams said. “It’s day after day after day.”
Adams and Murdock both said many of the workers walked out because they couldn’t handle the intense workload. And even Murdock, whose been working at PFI for six years, admitted there were times she didn’t know if she could finish the season.
“I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I just couldn’t wake up,” Murdock said. “I didn’t know when it was going to stop.”
She also noticed the wide age range of workers this year as opposed to most citing workers as young as 18 all the way up to those in their 60’s.
Despite the arduous days, Murdock and Adams made it through the season. Both are looking forward to a relaxing break now that it’s over.
“You have to be mentally strong for this kind of work,” Adams said. “But by the end of it you feel proud. You’re like, ‘Wow. I did it.’”
PFI Plant Manager Patrick Wilson echoed their sentiments.
“Those who made it to the end, my hats off to them,” Wilson said. “I guess you could say they survived a long season.”