Believes not enough Labradorians being employed on site
© Derek Montague
John Penny spent three straight mornings staging a one-man protest against Muskrat Falls hiring practices. He continued protesting even after getting a job offer at the site.
Many Labradorians have protested against the Muskrats Fall projects since it was green-lighted more than a year ago. But John Penney of Happy Valley-Goose Bay may be the only person to stage a protest after receiving a job offer at the site.
According to the 61-year-old, he originally had a job as a carpenter at Muskrat Falls between August and November 2013, before getting laid off.
Immediately afterwards, he kept searching, and waiting, for other job opportunities at the site. But according to Penney, the phone call never came.
Things came to a head after Penney received word from a friend at Muskrat Falls that there were carpenters being brought into the site from the island portion of the province. Penney felt that he and other Labradorians should be first in line for jobs at Muskrat Falls.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back; when I was going around here, looking for work with my hands in my pockets…I heard there was six carpenters in from central Newfoundland,” says Penny.
“It didn’t make me feel very good, because on several occasions I was told I was first on the list.”
In fact, Nalcor’s own hiring policy states that Labradorians will have hiring priority, after members of the Innu Nation, followed by Newfoundlanders.
“For the generation portion of the project, qualified residents of Labrador will have priority, followed by residents of Newfoundland,” states Nalcor’s website.
Whether or not the contractors are following the hiring protocol has been a source of heated debate amongst Labradorians. Many feel that some qualified locals are being left out in the cold.
According to Nalcor’s calculations, as of November 2013, 40.3 per cent of people employed at Muskrats Falls were Labradorian, while 49.2 per cent came from Newfoundland. These numbers for Labrador are good compared to the original numbers from January 2013, when 30.2 per cent of employees were Labradorian.
Penney staged his one-man protest for three straight mornings between Saturday, Feb. 8 and Monday Feb. 10.
“It comes to a point in this where we have to stop sitting on our rear ends,” says Penney.
“There are too many people from outside coming in, while there are qualified people here to do the job.”
Penney stood out by the entrance to the worksite, at roughly 5:30 a.m. each morning, in order to catch the heavy Muskrat Falls traffic on the Trans Labrador Highway. He would stay until 6:30 a.m. braving the extremely cold weather.
“I guess I’m from the old school and I don’t mind cold a whole lot, except for my fingers,” says Penney.
In his hands Penney held two signs reading “NALCOR WHEN-R-U GOING TO REQUIRE CONTRACTS TO FOLLOW HIRING POLICY” and “HIRE LABRADOR RESIDENTS FOR JOBS IN MUSKRAT FALLS.”
The carpenter would approach some people in their vehicles to tell them why he was out protesting. According to Penny, he even stopped a bus with Muskrat Falls' employees to talk with them. The people he spoke to were generally polite.
“For the most part, they told me it was the proper thing,” says Penney.
On either Sunday or Saturday, Penney claims that he received a phone call offering him a job at Muskrat Falls. Penney isn’t sure if his protesting had anything to do with the offer, but it seemed like his mission was accomplished.
Nonetheless, Penney decided to continue his one-man demonstration on Monday, Feb. 10, even though he knew it could endanger his future employment.
“I was told it might lessen my chances (of employment),” says Penney.
“The protest wasn’t only for me. There’s a lot of people in Goose Bay in the same situation as I am.”
Penney was willing to do another protest on Tuesday, Feb. 11 as well. He got the word out on VOCM Open Line for other Labradorians to join him, but he heard no response.
“All to often we get a tendency to sit down in our living rooms and talk about things, but not take action,” says Penney.