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HomeNewsArchivesLABOR UNREST AT REFINERY’S COKER PROJECT

LABOR UNREST AT REFINERY’S COKER PROJECT

June 13, 2001 – Steelworkers Union officials and Bechtel International are trying to defuse labor unrest that started Monday on the coker project at the Hovensa refinery.
On Tuesday, Frederick Joseph, the subdistrict director for the union, said he met with representatives of Bechtel as well as union members to discuss the situation that caused hundreds of workers to stage a job action Monday at the site of the giant coker project. Union members claim that James International Construction, a Bechtel subcontractor, had imported workers from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland while Bechtel laid of more than 60 local workers.
"We’re in dialogue trying to discuss the issue," Joseph said. "I assured (the workers) their concerns would be addressed by the union and the company."
Neither Bechtel nor JIC representatives could be reached for comment Tuesday.
The labor problems harken back to 1996 and the Brown and Root "scandal," when the refinery's fluidized catalytic cracking unit, or cat cracker, underwent its first overhaul. At that time, the general contractor on the project, Brown and Root, was castigated for bringing in off-island workers instead of hiring locally.
On Tuesday, acting-Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin said the department has requested Bechtel to turn over personnel records "so we can verify for sure to see if they have violated the law or not."
Employers are required to post any job vacancies with Labor before filling them with imported workers.
Bechtel has until June 22 to turn over the requested material, Benjamin said. If not, he said the department will subpoena the information.
"I’m going to enforce the law," Benjamin said.
About 2,000 workers were on the job at the height of the coker project in February. That number is now about 1,500 and will gradually decrease until the project’s estimated completion in February 2002.
The $535 million coker project includes a petroleum coke storage facility, a dock and modifications to existing processing units. The coker will enable the refinery to process heavier Venezuelan crude oil.

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