May 7, 2013 by Rob Hurlbut
Bald Eagles At Westward Seafoods In Dutch Harbor Alaska
Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor, Alaska is a throwback to a time when human rights, environmental awareness and racism were running rampant or had never been heard of before. It is a place that is horrible to work for and should be shut down. I worked for Westward Seafoods from January until April of 2013 and I am still piecing together the shattered remnants of my psyche and recovering from physical damage that has not been encountered by an employee in the United States of America since the late 1800’s. The culture of Westward Seafoods is comically racist and the isolated location of Dutch Harbor is used as leverage to instill fear in the employees. After bringing people to Dutch Harbor, Westward lies to employees by saying the only way to leave the island without paying for a $1000 plane ticket is by getting laid off after working the entire season. They say that if you get fired, you will be cast adrift in Dutch Harbor. That is a lie. Alaska State Troopers and the Unalaska police require the seafood companies to fly terminated employees off the island. Westward Seafoods uses the implication of homelessness on an island on the southern fringes of the Bering Sea to force the full cooperation of their employees. The photo above is of bald eagles hanging out on the railing of my bunkhouse, with the plant and harbor in the background. I’m just getting started, so let’s move on, shall we?
Tom Madsen Airport in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska
Employees of Westward Seafoods are brought to the island on a prop driven, puddle jumping plane. The shot above was taken as I left the island but the Saab plane was the same type that flew me into what was to be my prison for the next three months. Make no mistake; you are a prisoner on Dutch Harbor.
Cell Phone Towers In Unalaska
The prison situation on Dutch Harbor starts with a lack of communication. There is cell service on the island but it’s not service that you can bring with you from the continental United States. Once there you will have to pay for a new phone and a new cell phone plan that is specific to the island. Other than that, you have to use payphones to communicate with the outside world. This leads me to my next point and that is communication within Westward Seafoods itself.
Westward Seafoods Bunkhouse In Dutch Harbor, Alaska
While you are working for Westwards Seafoods, they put you up in a bunkhouse and give you three meals a day. Above is the bunkhouse I lived in. The bed in the foreground was mine. This was only one half of the room. The other half had two more beds and a bathroom. So yes, five people lived here. You will notice there are no chairs or tables and there is no refrigerator or microwave. You are not allowed to bring food back from the galley, so if you happen to take a $20 round trip taxi ride to the island’s only grocery store, you have to buy food that does not need to be refrigerated and that does not need to be cooked. Imagine that for a second. Pretend the place where you live does not have a refrigerator, microwave or stove. After that, imagine that bedbugs infested your building and the company doesn’t tell you about it. I’m not kidding; there was a bedbug infestation that took place in February of 2013 at the Westward Seafoods plant. There is simply no dissemination about information like this at the plant. Knowledge and information are power so Westward does everything they can to keep employees in the dark.
Westward Seafoods Dutch Harbor Processing Plant
The photo above shows the extent of your world whilst working at Westward Seafoods. I was standing on the porch of my bunkhouse when I took the photo and in it you can see the two other bunkhouses in the foreground, the galley on the middle left and the buildings of the actual plant in the background. That’s it people.
Dutch Harbor & Westward Seafoods Processing Plant
Above you can see the entire Westward Seafoods prison compound as it looked one morning in February 2013. In all honesty, this post has not even scratched the surface of the working conditions, the racism or the mercury laden food that must be dealt with as a condition of working there. If you try to contact them via their website, they only have links for recruitment or sales. That should tell you everything. If, for example you had evidence of them selling or serving mercury laden Pollock, purchasing opillio crab from pirates or a working environment that is outside of OSHA standards, there is no way to let the company know. As if they didn’t already know.
Let me put it another way; company policy is not to administer first aid to an injury. If your finger gets loped of in one of their machines, you have to tell the lead of your section that your finger got loped off and only then can you seek medical attention. I’m not kidding. There is a first aid station that has no nurses or any doctors that require you to tell one specific person that you are injured BEFORE you can receive Boy Scout treatment for your injury. If you walk from your section to the first aid station with an amputated finger before you tell your lead, you will be refused medical aid. Anyway, Do not work for Westward Seafoods, I implore you. The basic math shows that, after taxes I brought home $5.20 per hour. No one has worked 12 to 18 hours a day for $5.20 an hour since the stone age. Need I say more? Yes, I should and will say more in my next post. My next post will talk specifically about the racist culture, lack of medical personnel, buying black market fish & crab and the mercury laden food that is fed to employees. In the meantime do some research and see that I’m not alone or making this up. Cheers!