Chisasibi construction workers set up a blockade November 1 to prevent two non-native truck drivers from exiting the local gravel pit in a protest against what they called unfair hiring practices by Chee Bee Cree Construction.
“We got over a hundred signatures to petition against the truckers,” said local truck driver Larry House. He is mad that Chee Bee Cree Construction hired independent nonnative truckers from the Abitibi region to do work that the locals were qualified to do.
It’s not quite that cut and dried, said Chee Bee Construction President L. George Pachanos. “The problem was we had been in contact with them (the Cree truckers) early on so we could include them into our bid for this contract. Some reasons they weren’t included certification and registration, so as we were running out of options we proceeded to call in out-of-town truckers,” he said.
“They didn’t give us any indication as to when they’d be available, so we took it as they wouldn’t be when they didn’t get in contact with us. We offered to get the trucks on the road for them, but for whatever reason, they never came forward to say what help they needed,” said Pachanos.
The blockade started out with four people, which included truck drivers who haul gravel and crushed rock. They had brought up the issue at community meetings, yet nothing seemed to move, so as a last resort, they blocked the road to the pit.
The blockade lasted nine hours and soon swelled to a dozen protestors and supporters by early afternoon. The workers received moral support from their community, as well as the two blockaded truck drivers. “The truck drivers told us that they understood what we were doing and why we were doing it,” he said. “And the support we got from the community was amazing.”
House said that a local pizza restaurant supplied them with food and drinks. A few elders also sat with them for the duration of the protest.
“We have 110 truckers and we need 400 outside workers to do work that locals aren’t qualified for,” said Pachanos, who had been discussing the problem with the disgruntled workers and hopes to come up with a solution soon. “It wasn’t our fault this happened. It was never our intentions to look to bring other people in, but if we don’t have the skills internally, then we look elsewhere.”
House stressed that he headed the protest to support the guys, noting that he is not ready to take on his usual job of hauling gravel at this time.