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July 25, 2001 – Hovensa Vice President Alex Moorhead said Wednesday that claims that Bechtel International Inc. was hiring off-island workers over local workers and offering higher wages and better benefits to imported workers didn't make any sense.
The Avis reported earlier this week that Terrence Nelson, president of Our Virgin Islands Labor Union, said workers had staged a work stoppage Monday to bring attention to discrepancies in treatment and benefits between local and off-island workers.
But Moorhead, in a release from his office, said offering higher wages and benefits to imported workers would make no sense. "This would increase Bechtel's cost of completing the coker project, an increase in cost which Hovensa will not absorb."
He also said, "Replacing qualified workers with imported workers would also violate Bechtel's contract with Hovensa."
Bechtel International is the primary contractor on the construction of a the $535 million coker project at the Hovensa refinery.
This is not the first job action staged as a result of unrest at the refinery. In June hundreds of workers walked off the job claiming that James International Construction, a Bechtel International subcontractor, had imported workers from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland while Bechtel laid off more than 60 local workers.
Nelson also said, in published reports, that off-island workers didn't have to take and pass a test administered before they are hired, but Moorhead said the adult education test is given to all workers "irrespective of the point of hire."
The test is to ensure, he said, that everyone who is hired to work on the coker project is able to read and understand warning signs and basic safety instructions.
Frederick Joseph, the subdistrict director for the United Steelworkers Workers of America, the union which represents the Bechtel employees, has questioned why Nelson is involved at all with the Bechtel employees, since it is the Steelworkers Union, not OVILU that represents them. He accused Nelson of deliberately creating unrest among the workers. Joseph told the Avis "When they lose their jobs by striking he better be prepared to take responsibility for his actions."
Moorhead invited Nelson or "anyone else who has knowledge of any instance of a qualified local worker being replaced by an imported work, or of an off island worker being exempted from pre-employment testing" to call his office, adding, "Any complaint that Hovensa finds to be supported by facts will be taken up with Bechtel's management for prompt corrective action."
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.

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