Court ruling puts Chevron workers out of jobs

July 8, 2009 7:23:52 PM PDT
A court ruling environmentalists are calling a huge victory is proving to be a major setback for more than 1,000 workers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond. That ruling means they are losing their jobs this week.

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Here today, gone by Friday -- that is the predicament for most of the 1,300 people now working to modernize Chevron's Richmond refinery.

"We're starting our demobilization, we are stopping work on the project," refinery general manager Mike Coyle said. "We expected this construction to go on at this pace for at least another year. That's 1 million hours and $50 to $75 million of income that's lost."

According to Chevron, 90 percent of the affected workers live in the local community.

"There's no other construction that I'm aware of, of any size, that's going on in the immediate area," former Chevron worker Dennis Roos said. Roos is a Richmond electrician, laid off last Thursday, who now has few job prospects.

The job losses come after Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga gave Chevron 60 days to halt a project that is more than half completed.

The judge sided with citizens groups, worried that Chevron's environmental impact report did not specify whether the upgrades would prompt the refinery to process heavier, more polluting grades of crude oil.

"We're not laying off jobs, we're actually are holding Chevron accountable to the standards they should've had from the beginning of the project," Communities for a Better Environment spokesperson Nile Malloy said.

"This project is not about a crude switch and that's where our opponents are wrong, we will continue the same suite of crudes," Coyle said.

"The regulatory bodies, including the Air District, believed that it could go forward in a way that would have a positive effect on the environment," Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia said. Gioia sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board, which approved the project.

Besides the job losses, Richmond could be out $61 million in 'community benefits,' a package of contributions Chevron agreed to make when the City Council originally approved their upgrade.

Now, Chevron plans to appeal Judge Zuniga's ruling to San Francisco's First District Court of Appeals, a process that could take months, or years.

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