By Matt Jaworski
Labor Citizen Writer
This article was initially published in the April 2021 edition of The Labor Citizen.
More than 3,000 jobs normally performed by union building trades members will instead be performed by non-union, out-of-state construction workers this fall.
During a March press conference, Lima Building and Construction Trades Council President Rick Perdue confirmed the Lima Refinery does not intend to use union construction workers during its fall turnaround.
The fall turnaround, which was the largest preventative maintenance project scheduled at the plant this year, will be performed by “turnaround specialists” instead of the local building trades members who have worked at the facility for years.
“The decision was a big kick in the pants,” Perdue said. “Our members are the specialists … Building trades members have been working at the refinery for many generations. Our members know the plant inside and out.”
Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Mike Knisley called the move a punch in the gut. Knisley, the former UA Local 776 Business Manager and past President of the Lima Building Trades, noted his Local has performed shutdown work at the refinery for over a century.
“More than 110 years of dedicated service to the refinery means nothing to Cenovus,” he said, referencing the new refinery owners, Canadian-based Cenovus Energy formally acquired the 135-year-old refinery from Husky Energy in January.
According to Perdue, 1.8 million work hours will be lost by affiliated Local Unions. Besides hours lost, the decision will cost members just over $12 million in insurance benefits, about $14 million in pension benefits and over $900,000 in training funds.
In the Lima Building Trades jurisdiction, work has been slow. Between tradesmen and tradeswomen not working due to COVID-19 or for a lack of work, the fall turnaround was seen as a way to help refurbish unemployment status for many union members.
“They need to work to rebuild their unemployment,” Perdue added.
The move by the refinery will hurt the entire community and create a negative economic impact on the region, Perdue said.
“It means local people will not be buying cars, paying property taxes, buying homes, etc. This is a big economic impact to the community and northwest Ohio. It will affect the building trades members who live up near Toledo, but travel down here for the refinery work and it will affect the kids in school, who are hoping to get into the trades,” said Perdue.
By going non-union, the plant’s new owner is hurting groups who have supported the plant in many ways. The region’s building trades are one of the largest donors to the refinery’s charity golf outing and the Locals regularly support their permit renewals and expansions.
“100 percent of the workforce will be from outside the state,” said Knisley. “Millions of dollars will go down to Texas and Louisiana. The only ones who will benefit will be the hotels and restaurants, and that will only be for two months.”
At this point, Perdue is hopeful the continued talks with the refinery’s management team will get union construction workers some hours during the turnaround.
“If they were against the union, they would not be talking with us,” Perdue stated.
If history is any indication, the work performed by the non-union members will open the door for the union to perform work during the next turnaround.
“The refinery has done this once before and they did not get the best results,” said Perdue. “Our members perform their work with pride.”
In addition to Knisley meeting with refinery representatives, numerous elected officials have sent letters to Cenovus, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
The Lima facility becomes the second Ohio refinery owned by Cenovus Energy to move away from using union building trades members in recent months.
As reported in January, UA Local 50 Business Manager Scott Lopez said more than 1 million hours of work at the BP-Cenovus Refinery in Toledo is slated to go to non-union construction workers during the 2021 turnaround.
Knisley believes the Cenovus decision will put the safety of the refinery workers and the community in danger.
“This is the most volatile industry in the building trades, where you take crude and turn it into gas using a volatile, high temperature process,” he said. “These out-of-state construction workers have no responsibility. They do the work and leave. If something happens, we are the ones left holding bag.”
He believes now is the time to begin talking with members of the Ohio House and Senate about legislation ensuring refinery work is performed by members of Ohio building trades.
California, for instance, passed legislation in October 2013 requiring refineries regulated by state and federal air pollution laws to impose a Prevailing Wage on contractors working at refineries. The California law also requires at least 60 percent of the contractor
workforce to have completed a state or federally approved apprenticeship program.
“We need to start having conversations with the state politicians. I do not think we should be subcontracting out this work to individuals from Texas or Louisiana, who may not be properly trained to perform this work,” Knisley said.
CUTLINE: Cenovus, the new owner of the Lima Refinery, will not use union construction workers during its fall turnaround. The decision will cost members of the building trades an estimated 3,000 jobs, which will go to out-of-state, non-union workers.