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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesREFINERY WORKERS VOICE CONCERNS

REFINERY WORKERS VOICE CONCERNS

July 27, 2001 – Only about 20 employees of Hovensa refinery subcontractors showed up at a meeting held Thursday night at the behest of Cecil Benjamin, Labor Department commissioner designee, at Midland Bar and Restaurant.
Benjamin said the Department of Labor had received numerous job-related complaints from employees of Hovensa subcontractors working on the coker project.
Hovensa's vice president, Alex Moorhead, also sat in on the meeting.
Because only a few employees showed up, Terrence Nelson, the president of Our Virgin Islands Labor Union, questioned whether Moorhead's presence was inhibiting them.
"I don't feel it's fair to these employees to have top level management here when they are supposed to voice their concerns," Nelson said. "If I was working for Hovensa, I would be somewhat intimidated to speak exactly what I feel in front of Alex Moorhead, the vice president for Hovensa."
But Benjamin said there were many stakeholders in this issue and everyone had to work together to resolve the problems.
"If Moorhead is here to shed some light on some of these issues, it can serve to help the situation," he said.
Those employees who did speak out did not seem in the least intimidated.
Hovensa subcontractor employee Ira Hobson expressed concern that representatives of the Labor Department cannot make unannounced visits to the refinery to check on working conditions.
"There are a lot of things going on in there that even if we make a complaint to the Labor Department, it's corrected before you get there," Hobson told Benjamin. "So we who make the complaints end up looking like liars."
Benjamin, however, said he thought Hovensa had given the department open access to the refinery. Short staffing at the department, not lack of access, was the problem, he said. He promised the department would be more visible and involved at the refinery.
Severance pay and retirement benefits were also of concern. David Daniel, who has worked at the refinery since 1972, still does not know if he will be eligible for retirement benefits when he is not able to work anymore. He wants the department to educate employees in the private sector on how to plan for retirement by setting up a pension plan.
Another man, Arthur Bridgewater, told the meeting that for eight months he's been trying to get a job with a Hovensa subcontractors but to no avail. "Work has been going on at the coker project, but the natives of this country have been put aside, for what reason I don't know," he said.
Bridgewater said he has filed many applications with the Labor Department for a job at the refinery but still cannot get hired. He said he was a "victim of the system."
The labor relations specialist at the Labor Department, Marla Bascomb said that according to an agreement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the department investigates only race, color, national origin, sex and sexual harassment charges. "We do not have jurisdiction in the charges that Mr. Bridgewater has filed," she said. "Those files were already deferred to the EEOC, who will subsequently investigate all of the allegations made against these
subcontractors and Hovensa."
Concerns were also raised about whether an agreement had been made to limit the number of off-island workers that can be hired at the refinery to work on the coker project.
No, said Moorhead, explaining that the third extension agreement "does not set a limit on the number of people you can bring in. What it does say is, to the maximum extent possible and practicable, you must hire qualified Virgin Islands residents."
Benjamin said the next meeting in the series will be with representatives of unions representing Hovensa employees.

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