Displaced union workers hand out information at ExxonMobil refinery

2013-06-27T14:00:00Z 2013-06-28T10:00:04Z Displaced union workers hand out information at ExxonMobil refineryBy TOM HOWARD thoward@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Vicki Dickinson, who was laid off last month after ExxonMobil switched to a non-union contractor, was back outside the refinery gates Thursday morning, hoping to raise awareness about the plight of displaced workers.

Dickinson, a member of the Laborers Union, was among about 35 union workers who were let go when ExxonMobil switched contractors to do certain maintenance work at the refinery. Dickinson worked for LG Construction, a union contractor, which has been replaced by Brand Energy Solutions, a non-union contractor.

“I did so much for this employer. If they called me to come in early, I was here,” said Dickinson, who had worked for LG Construction for nearly 10 years.

More than a dozen workers who lost their jobs erected banners and distributed handbills as vehicles arrived at the refinery Thursday morning.

“(Brand Energy Solutions) has replaced local workers with low-wage people, some from out of state,” the handbill says in part.

Dickinson said her name has been placed on the out-of-work list at the union hall, but jobs have been few and far between.

Union members acknowledged that they don't have much recourse because ExxonMobil has the legal right to choose among contractors for maintenance.

Union officials said they heard that Brand Energy Solutions pays its workers $12 per hour with no benefits, less than half of what the union workers are paid.

They suspect that the new contractor has hired workers who aren’t well qualified, and they worry that ExxonMobil’s decision to cut costs will eventually put a strain on social service agencies because Brand's pay scale is too low to support a family.

So far The Gazette hasn’t been able to verify how much Brand Energy Solutions pays its employees.

An ExxonMobil spokesman refused to comment on personnel matters involving contractors and their employees. A telephone message left at Brand’s corporate headquarters wasn’t immediately returned.

Other workers said ExxonMobil’s decision to switch contractors has left them in a financial pinch.

Kurt Coder, a laborer, said he lost his job within days after his first son was born. He was called to work one day at Glendive, but opportunities have been sporadic.

Brian Evans said he had been looking to buy a house when he was laid off, and job opportunities have been scarce.

“I’ll go to Alaska if I have to, to get work,” Evans said. “I have a 1-1/2-year old at home.”

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