Editorial: Seafood worker story not fair or balanced
September 10, 2020
We have no desire to critique the public radio station's work but last week we had several people ask what we thought of station intern Corinne Smith's story that aired on KFSK. The story highlighted seafood workers' summer employment experiences in Petersburg under the state's Covid-19 mandates.
The piece fell far below the level of excellence usually attained by the station's news department. More work was needed to add balance to a story that could have highlighted the achievements of both cannery officials and the employees during this difficult year.
One plant manager told us the story failed to explain the difficult challenges both companies faced, "to stay open, process fish for the fleet and to protect the community." He later added, "A lot was left out of the story."
Both local plant managers worked tirelessly to provide shopping services, outdoor activities, entertainment, meals, housing, internet service, television, movie nights at the theater and other forms of relaxation.
Both managers were critical of how the story portrayed treatment of workers in a bad light because of the need to keep workers on company property. The station covered these stories in the spring as both Trident and Icicle (now OBI Seafoods, LLC) worked to create procedures that would meet state guidelines to protect the residents of communities where each plant operates.
OBI plant manager Patrick Wilson told us, "It was very expensive to bring employees to town this summer and we valued them - we needed them."
We visited hiring websites used by both companies and found them highly informative and brutally honest about working conditions in their plants. Wilson said his company even explained the whole process in writing and had each employee sign the document before they came to town.
Wilson admitted that one employee was fired for violating quarantine when he was found in a bar and the company paid his airfare out of town.
Wilson reported his company brought 240 to 250 workers to town while Trident brought in approximately 70. "Experienced workers didn't return this year," Wilson said.
"We hope next summer will be better. We hope the (fishing) forecast is better."