EDMONTON — As Mike Thomas sat on his front porch last week waiting to go to the airport and fly up north for work, his employer called him and said not to bother. He’d been fired for what he claims was blogging about camp conditions.
The apprentice electrician wrote two blog posts about the Suncor McKenzie and Voyager camps on the Firebag 3 project north of Fort McMurray, detailing what he said were unsanitary and inhumane conditions.
“People are beat down, they’re feeling helpless, they’re angry,” he said. “Suncor doesn’t care.”
On his blog, adhdcanuck, Thomas wrote that 50 workers have to share four urinals, toilets, and showers, the latter of which are encrusted with calcium buildups. He also said the camps have shared ventilation, which leads to outbreaks of cold and flu among hundreds of workers. Thomas also took pictures and videos of the poor conditions, showing long line ups for food and plates of deep fried items. He said these conditions are markedly worse than what’s offered in other camps.
Two days after that Oct. 4 post was written, Thomas said he was terminated by his employer AECON Lockerbie & Hole, a contractor, at the request of Suncor and banned from all company sites.
He said Suncor has a policy prohibiting photography within work sites, which is intended to protect industry secrets. He said the policy is being abused to turn the chain-link fences around work sites into a wall of silence.
“How are you going to tell me that all of northern Alberta is secret?” he said. “Trees, toilets, bears, dinner plates — these are not proprietary technologies.”
Thomas said he had complained to the cleaning and housing managers about unsanitary conditions but nothing was done. He said workers are discouraged from talking about camp conditions at meetings where they discuss safety, but the two are inextricably linked.
“It makes everybody really upset,” he said. “Then you get injuries because guys aren’t eating right, not sleeping right. They can’t focus on their jobs because they don’t care.”
He said he’s been in contact with workers at the Firebag camps and that they’re all hoping this incident will result in improvements to living conditions.
Thomas said his union, IBEW local 424, believes he was wrongfully terminated and are discussing the issue with lawyers before deciding how to proceed. He said he’s losing $2,450 a week, plus pension and benefits, as a result of his being fired.
A representative for Suncor could not be reached Saturday, but a commenter on Thomas’s blog claiming to be a company employee said they are working to improve camp conditions.
With files from Brent Wittmeier© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
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