June 30, 2001 — Despite assurances that 185 Hovensa contract workers won’t be losing their jobs — because they are being hired by another company within the refinery, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel was relentless in her questioning Friday night of company and union officials.
Earlier this week, the Source reported that because Jacobs-ICM had lost a maintenance contract with Hovensa, it would have to lay off 185 workers. But at a marathon meeting of the Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee chaired by Pickard-Samuel, senators were told the workers are being hired by a new company, Triangle Construction and Maintenance.
"The people who were laid off from Jacobs we will accommodate," said Leroy Mitchell, general manager of Triangle Construction. "Triangle will be absorbing every single individual. They will suffer absolutely no loss in pay or benefits."
But Pickard-Samuel and other senators blasted Mitchell and officials from Jacobs-ICM and the United Steelworkers International union for not informing workers about details of the job changes, such as receiving severance pay and the retention of seniority. Intensive questioning revealed that a contract has yet to be drawn up between the union and Triangle covering the workers involved in the transfer.
Frederick Joseph, Steelworkers subdistrict director, said he was told of the transfer plans just a few days ago. "I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Jacobs-IMC," he said. "There was concerns -– rightfully -– because the employees weren’t confident in what was going on."
Mitchell said the deal came about quickly and some details were yet to be completed. But he was adamant that all of the workers would be rehired by Triangle.
Illustrating the confusion was disagreement between Mitchell and Joseph on whether the workers being transferred would keep their seniority. Mitchell said that any Jacobs employee who accepted severance pay would be hired by Triangle without seniority.
Joseph, however, said workers would receive severance and still retain seniority. The confusion drew hoots and hollers from the workers in the audience. Joseph and Mitchell agreed that details still have to be ironed out.
Triangle, which won the maintenance contract over Jacobs, was formed because its predecessor company, C&C Construction, was not unionized. Mitchell said all companies must be unionized in order to work on Hovensa’s $535 million coker project. And at the refinery that means under the Steelworkers union, which has an agreement with Hovensa.
That, claims St. Croix attorney Ronald Russell, is collusion. Russell, who is representing a client with a claim against the Steelworkers union, blasted Joseph and the union for not responding to the needs of its members. "It’s really the union shafting the people here," he said.
Pickard-Samuel agreed, and took the accusation a step further. She contends that Hovensa uses subcontractors "interchangeably" to avoid direct commitments to workers.
"It goes back to Hovensa," she said, "and they are getting away with murder."


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