ITF declares solidarity with workers at Chevron gas project in Australia

Unions affiliated with the  International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) voted recently to use any lawful means necessary to stop the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a Chevron natural gas extraction project in Australia unless the company stops its union busting campaign at the project.

The dock workers section of ITF meeting in Perth, Australia passed a motion of solidarity with workers at the Chevron Gorgon gas project at Barrow Island, a remote island off the coast in Western Australia.

At the meeting, ITF President Paddy Crumlin said that he would declare the docks at Barrow Island a port of convenience when Chevron begins shipping gas from the project.

Such a declaration could lead to acts of solidarity at ports throughout the world that could prevent shipments of LNG from Barrow Island from being unloaded.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has accused Chevron of disregarding labor standards such as the right of workers to join a union and bargain collectively and the right to a reasonable level of health and safety standards at the Gorgon project.

“Chevron continues to seek to exclude my union from an Australian island to export natural gas which belongs to all Australians,” said Crumlin, who is also MUA’s national secretary. “Unless this changes, when the first shipment leaves Barrow Island, it will be declared a port of convenience.”

Crumlin added that Chevron has failed to build infrastructure and make improvements that it promised to local Barrow Island residents.

Chevron’s Gorgon project is a massive energy project that includes the building of offshore gas wells, a pipeline, an onshore facility where natural gas will be transformed into its liquefied form, docks and warehouses where equipment and supplies for the project are received and stored, and harbor equipment that will fill large ocean-going tankers with LNG for transport to the international market.

Chevron and its partners, a consortium of international energy companies, broke ground on the project in 2009.

The original cost of the project was estimated to be $37 billion, but the cost has ballooned to $54 billion.

Chevron originally told investors that it would begin shipping LNG by 2014, but Chevron failed to meet that milestone.

The company then said that shipping would begin by the summer of 2015, but now, Chevron says that the Gorgon project is only 90 percent complete and that gas shipment may not begin until the end of 2015.

Shell, one of Chevron’s partners on the project, estimates that gas shipments won’t begin until 2016.

The delays have raised concerns among the project’s investors, and Chevron is blaming the delays on the project’s unions and union workers.

When the Gorgon project began in 2009, Chevron signed labor agreements with MUA and other Australian unions setting wages and labor standards for the project.

But workers on the project complained that Chevron and its subcontractors did not always follow the terms of the agreement.

In 2012 things came to a head when dock workers at the Barrow Island port facility staged a walkout to protest poor health and safety conditions.

The lack of health and safety that caused the workers’ protest were part of a wider problem of mismanagement on the project.

The mismanagement problems are documented in a report written by Brandon Ellem, professor of labor relations at the University of Sydney Business School. The report was commissioned by MUA.

Among other things, the report says that poor communications between Chevron and its subcontractors and workers, an inefficient computer system used to plan and schedule work, logistical problems associated with the project’s remoteness, and the enormity and complexity of the project itself are the cause of the project’s delays and cost overruns.

Ellem’s report was published after Chevron reacted to the workers’ health and safety walkout by blaming union activity for the project’s slow progress. Among other things, Chevron accused the workers of being overpaid and lazy.

The company’s anti-union discourse came to a head in 2014 when Chevron filed suit against MUA for the workers’ 2012 walkout and demanded $20 million in damages.

According to the union, if Chevron wins the lawsuit and wins $20 million in damages, it would in effect bust the union.

But Professor Ellem’s report contends that Chevron’s lawsuit and anti-union media campaign is a smokescreen designed to obscure the company’s own faults.

He points out that the project’s labor costs are only 1 percent of the project’s total cost and couldn’t possibly account for the $17 billion cost overrun.

The report also shows that Chevron’s complaints about lack of productivity on the job are baseless.

“Is (blaming unions and workers) an adequate explanation (for the cost overruns and delays)?” asks Ellem in the report. “The short answer is: no. . . This report suggests these behaviors are more about blame-shifting than genuine analysis.”

At the ITF dock workers section meeting where the federation said that Barrow Island would be declared a port of convenience unless Chevron stops its union busting, Crumlin condemned Chevron’s blame-shifting and urged the company to work with unions to resolve the problems that have delayed the project.

“Employers need to clearly decide whether they want to work with unions – and we’ll be there – or against unions – and we’ll be there as well,” said Crumlin.


Chevron fined, demonstrators protest lack of safety and global warming in Richmond, CA

After Chevron pled no contest to six misdemeanor criminal charges resulting from an explosion at its refinery in Richmond, California, a judge on August 5 ordered the multinational oil company to pay $2 million in fines.

The explosion, which took place in August 2012, imperiled the safety of workers at the refinery, and the thick cloud of toxic black smoke released into the atmosphere by the explosion sent 15,000 residents of Richmond and other nearby communities to the hospital.

Two days before the judge levied the fines, 3,000 people including members of more than 30 unions, worker centers, and other labor organizations marched through the streets of Richmond to the Chevron refinery gates to protest the lack of safety at the refinery and the increased risk of global warming posed by Chevron’s refining of tar sands oil, similar to the kind that will be pumped from Canada to Texas via the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The action was organized by as part of its Summer Heat Campaign.

After the protestors completed their march, more than 200 were arrested at the refinery gates for acts of civil disobedience.

“We are here today to say we have to change the way we do business on this planet” said ILWU Local 6 President Fred Pecker to a reporter as Pecker was being arrested. “We have to look after people not profits.”

Last year, Chevron reported profits of $26.3 billion, and Forbes ranked the oil giant third on its list of the 500 largest corporations.

In addition to the $2 million fine, the judge ordered the company to inspect more than 16,000 piping components.

Corroded piping at the refinery allowed flammable vapors to escape and then explode.

Chevron engineers had warned that piping in the plant was badly corroded and needed to be replaced.

Replacing the pipes would have temporarily reduced production at the refinery, and management chose not to do so.

The explosion caused by the corroded piping engulfed 19 workers, who were lucky to have escaped serious injury.

Four of the criminal charges against the oil corporation involved violations of California’s labor standards, including failure to maintain equipment in a safe manner and failure to implement an effective prevention program to protect workers from hazards.

The lack of adequate safety maintenance is not unique to the Chevron Richmond refinery said Jeff Clark, Secretary Treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 5, which represents oil workers in Richmond and the rest of Northern California.

“We want to stress that this is an industry wide problem,” said Clark at an April hearing on a preliminary report about the causes of the Richmond explosion by the US Chemical Safety Board. These management system failures are happening all over the country.

Testifying before a US Senate committee hearing in June, Kim Nibarger, health, safety, and environmental specialist for the USW, said that since 2008 the oil industry has reported an average of more than 45 refinery fires a year, and with 22 reported so far this year, the industry is maintaining that pace in 2013.

Refinery safety affects people who live in communities near refineries as well the workers.

That was one reason that Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a member of the Green Party, joined the protests at the Chevron refinery.

Before the protestors marched to the refinery, McLaughlin addressed them and announced that the City of Richmond a day earlier had filed a civil suit against Chevron seeking to recover damages caused by the explosion and subsequent air pollution.

According to the pleadings in the civil suit, Chevron has a “corporate culture which places profits and executive pay over public safety;” “ignore[s] the dangers of corrosion;” “delay[s] needed safety repairs;” and “[has] spent $52.8 million to compensate its top three executives.”

“They’ve told us they are building a safer refinery. They’ve told us they aren’t polluting us, and yet these incidents happen time and time again” said McLaughlin to the protestors. “Over the last 20 years, more than a dozen incidents like the prior happened in this city, in this refinery. That’s unacceptable.”

A few days later, McLaughlin told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that the city decided to sue Chevron because the company’s attitude toward the safety of Richmond’s residents was one of willful neglect.

McLaughlin was joined at the protest by residents of Richmond, environmental and social justice activists, and union members.

A number of unions endorsed and promoted the action including AFSCME locals 57 and 3299, the California Faculty Association, the California Nurses Association, CWA District 9, CWA Local 9412, UPTE CWA Local 9119, CWA Pacific Media Workers Guild 39521, ILWU Northern California District Council, OPIEU Local 3, SEIU Local 1021, UAW Local 2865, UC-AFT Local 1474, and UNITE HERE Local 2850.