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Nov. 27, 2001 — A change in the maintenance contractor at the Hovensa refinery on St. Croix will likely result in layoffs of about 250 workers at the end of the year.
In a letter issued in early November by Jacobs IMC, Hovensa's primary maintenance contractor, the company told its employees that Hovensa had decided to use a new contractor to conduct major maintenance projects and overhauls of equipment, also called turnarounds, according to Lloyd Daly, former president of United Steelworkers of America Local 8248, the union that represents the Jacobs IMC workers. Daly said the letter informed employees that 240 to 250 workers would be laid off on Dec. 31.
Hovensa Vice President Alex Moorhead confirmed the change in contractors, but said Jacobs IMC would need to answer questions about the number of workers who may lose their jobs. Officials at Jacobs could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Hovensa "made a business decision to discontinue its contract with Jacobs IMC" in September, Moorhead told WSTX radio. Houston-based Wyatt Field Service Co. "will be our turnaround and major maintenance contractor," he added.
Earlier this year, Jacobs IMC lost its contract to hydro-blast mechanical equipment, paint and clean storage tanks at the refinery. When that happened, 185 workers were laid off. But they were picked up by Triangle Construction and Maintenance, which was awarded the contract for that work by Hovensa.
Moorhead said he hoped Wyatt would absorb as many of the laid-off workers as possible.
"I would assume they would find it in their interest to hire people who are experienced in this work … and give them due consideration," he said. But he added that there will likely be fewer turnaround projects at the refinery in the coming year than this year.
Meanwhile, both Daly and V.I. Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin commented on the change in contractors. Daly said it will likely mean more off-island workers being brought in to the refinery to replace Jacobs employees, many of whom have 20 to 30 years of service — and benefits — built up.
Benjamin said cutting contracts with one employer and then having workers start at another company is a "systemic way" for Hovensa and its subcontractors to limit long-term benefits to employees.
In August of 1999, Jacobs Panamerican Corp. and Virgin Islands Industrial Maintenance Corp., then the largest maintenance contractor at the refinery, merged to create Jacobs IMC. Some maintenance tasks that were being done by Hovensa employees at the time of the merger were assigned to Jacobs IMC. Hovensa workers whose jobs were eliminated in the reorganization were offered similar positions with Jacobs IMC or different jobs within Hovensa. Hovensa employees who chose not to accept reassignment were given the option of severance benefits.

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