Quadra Island's Cliff Mooney says he's "scrambling" to figure out how he's going to fill his vehicles with gas when he needs it, after the island's only gas station temporarily closed Thursday morning.
The electrician says he operates three vehicles and relies heavily on the gas station to run his business. But an ongoing staff shortage at the Quadra Island General Store Gas N Go station has led to weeks of reduced hours. He drove to the station Thursday only to find signs on the building saying the station had closed.
"Do I find a bunch of jerry cans and try to [fill my own gas] safely?" he asked, adding that it would be time consuming and up to $40 more expensive to take a ferry to Vancouver Island to fill up his trucks.
On Thursday morning a photo surfaced on social media — posted by a person claiming to be the station's "last employee" — of a paper sign posted on a gas pump saying "closed due to terrible ownership and management."
The station's owner, Wayne Procter, who owns over 20 other Gas N Go stations across Vancouver Island, confirmed that "staff did walk out" in the morning, and called the signs "slanderous."
"We treat our people very well," said Procter. "We pay competitively, we look after our staff, we have benefits available to the management team, and this is something that is really just unfair."
Ongoing staff shortages
Procter said COVID-19 has been partially responsible for staff shortages plaguing multiple stations and other businesses in the region. On Quadra Island, which is home to around 2,500 residents in addition to summer tourists, the station has had to reduce its hours for the last three weeks or so.
"There's just a very limited supply of people that want to work," he said. "We're going to be running on limited hours and possibly be shut a day or two a week."
He said the Gas N Go on Quadra Island will reopen Friday with the remaining two employees staffing the station.
In the meantime, Procter said, his management team is "turning over every rock" to try to find new employees, and has even been asking former employees to return to the station.
Harley Rybchuk, a former employee, said he isn't surprised that staff closed up shop, given that he walked away from his job there last month after management asked him to work "40-plus hours a week," without any overtime pay, to cover shifts other employees wouldn't take.
Rybchuk said "plenty" of businesses rely on the station for their propane and gas.
Elected official suggests local station ownership
Jim Abram, the area's elected regional district director and a resident of the island, says he's heard there have been staff issues at the station for years due to various management conflicts.
"We need service seven days a week," he said.
"Everybody ... who works construction jobs, delivery jobs, all of our [first responders] have to be able to get gas," he said.
"We either need to have good management that understands that Quadra Island cannot do without a gas station, or we need to replace [it] with another entity," he said, suggesting a locally owned co-op station instead.
Abram said he called BC Ferries Thursday to ask that a poster be put up at the Campbell River ferry terminal notifying travellers that gas may be difficult to find on the island.
Blaine Smith owns Maple Meadows Painting and Contracting said further reduced service could be "absolutely crippling" for a large community that uses gas-powered scooters or mopeds as their primary way to get around the island.
Smith also suggested "local ownership" as a solution because the owner might be more accountable and invested in the well-being of the community.