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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, February 2, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesHOVENSA Defends Itself Against Senator's Charges

HOVENSA Defends Itself Against Senator's Charges

Dear Source:
I read in the April 18th edition of another newspaper that, during his April 17th confirmation hearing, several senators expressed the hope that, as Commissioner of Labor, the Honorable Albert Bryan, Jr., would address the problem of "HOVENSA importing workers instead of hiring Virgin Islanders.” According to your newspaper, Senator Ronald E. Russell specifically stated “One of the biggest issues we're facing now, for example, is “HOVENSA, who still continues to import workers from the mainland to do projects when there is a high unemployment rate on St. Croix and parts of St. Thomas.” He further stated, “They should be coming to the local workforce, and I'm hopeful that you are the change we need to deal with this situation.” I would fully support this sentiment if its premise were true, but the fact is HOVENSA does not import workers instead of hiring Virgin Islanders!
From time to time, HOVENSA has a large “turnaround” at the refinery, meaning a shutdown of several processing units for cleaning, inspection and repair, which normally requires approximately one month to perform. The last such project was the turnaround of the fluid catalytic cracking (the FCC) complex in February 2005. A similar turnaround of the coker complex and several upstream units is scheduled for next month for a period lasting 35 days starting around May 7th. This is expected, at its peak, to result in the temporary employment of 1,800 workers over and above the regular workforce of approximately 3000 workers who currently are employed at the refinery by HOVENSA and its contractors.
Two companies will be the primary contractors for this work: JV Industrial Virgin Islands (JVVI) and Wyatt VI Corporation (Wyatt). These companies are required by their contract with HOVENSA to comply with all applicable labor laws of the Virgin Islands, including the law requiring the registration of job openings with the Department of Labor (DOL). During a meeting on March 26th of representatives of JVVI, Wyatt, HOVENSA and officials of the DOL, the representatives of JVVI and Wyatt stated that they had previously registered the job openings for this project with the DOL’s Job Service Division and that a small number of local workers had been referred to them for the openings. Officials of the DOL confirmed this statement and explained that not many craftsmen are available for employment on the upcoming turnaround because of other projects that are in progress on St. Croix.
Neither HOVENSA nor its contractors are arbitrarily or maliciously bringing craftsmen from the mainland for these projects; the importation of a skilled workforce by the contractors is the consequence of the shortage of qualified local craftsmen. If the senators who called on Commissioner Bryan to address this presumed problem know of qualified Virgin Islands craftsmen (e.g. boilermakers, pipefitters, and welders), they should refer them to the Job Service Division of the DOL for consideration. It simply makes no business sense for HOVENSA to incur the additional expense of transporting craftsmen from the states and housing them temporarily as a cost of the turnaround, if qualified local craftsmen are available to fill these jobs.
Our elected leaders do a disservice to their constituents when they engage in political grandstanding, which in this instance only serves to mislead Virgin Islands residents on the reason why employers must occasionally import craftsmen. HOVENSA does not believe it is realistic to expect Virgin Islanders to prepare themselves and then sit around waiting to fill jobs that occur every 2 to 3 years and last for a period of approximately 30 days.
Since 1999, HOVENSA has funded the operation of an evening industrial crafts training program at the St. Croix Career & Technical Education Center (CTEC), formerly the St. Croix Vocational School. This program has not resulted in an appreciable number of new industrial craftsmen becoming available although it has upgraded the skills of current craftsmen. The program is being replaced by a high school-level industrial crafts training program at the CTEC, which is being funded solely by HOVENSA in its first year of operation (2006-2007). The latter program is designed to prepare local residents to replace craftsmen in full time maintenance jobs at the refinery who are nearing the age at which persons normally choose to retire.
It should be noted that the importation of a large number of craftsmen from the mainland to work on a turnaround at the refinery is the exception rather than the rule. Several smaller turnarounds are conducted by Wyatt each year, and these turnarounds are manned mainly by local residents.
Alex A. Moorhead

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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