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Response to Article Blaming Environments for Chevron Job Loss

The following op ed piece I wrote was carried by the Contra Costa Times on July 12:, page A9


Chevron, Union have Reaped What They Sowed


While I share Business editor Drew Voros’ concern (“Chevron refinery fight killing jobs,” July 8) about temporarily lost jobs due to a judge’s order, I do not share his implication that the environmental organizations that are plaintiffs in the litigation are to blame.


While not explicitly targeting “environmentalists,” Mr. Voros leaves that impression with statements like:


“While environmentalists were celebrating a legal victory stopping key expansion work at Chevron's Richmond refinery, the first of 100 union iron workers and pipe fitters there began their holiday weekend freshly unemployed,” and “The circuitous legal argument put forth by Earthjustice that Chevron's expansion will harm the environment is precisely the type of court fight that will stick in the bowels of justice for years. Chevron will not wait.”


I don’t think anyone, including environmentalists, relishes a large scale job loss, and it is unfair to infer that Earthjustice or any of the other plaintiffs are to blame for the current state of affairs. To describe the plaintiffs’ legal arguments pejoratively as “circuitous” is also inappropriate. Their arguments prevailed not because of their complexity but because they were simple and straightforward. If there was anything circuitous about this project, it was the way the system was subverted to secure an approval.


You should also examine labor’s role. The very unions that are now screaming the loudest originally allied themselves with Earthjustice and the other environmentalists, albeit based on different motivations. Labor recognized the validity of the environmentalists’ position and used it as lever to negotiate union-friendly concessions from Chevron.


In fact, there was a time when there was about to be a win-win-win deal. According to some sources, the deal that was cut by local labor leaders—and agreed to by Chevron—was tossed.  Chevron reneged on the deal and went over the heads of local Labor unions.  They went to national union leaders and cut themselves a new deal which was substantially more in favor of Chevron than what they agreed to locally.

Once the national union leaders had cut their deal, effectively subverting their own regional local unions, these regional locals were directed by their Internationals to back off of the EIR. In fact, members of the local labor unions didn’t just back off; they flocked to the permit hearing to beg the City Council to certify the EIR they had so recently criticized and approve the project so they could go to work.

Local unions, while autonomous to a certain extent, risk having their charters pulled when they contradict their national bodies.  The local building trades backed off not because they had a change of heart but partly because they were intimidated and partly because they valued their jobs more than they valued Richmond’s air. Some local union members believe that even kickbacks may have been accepted, although no one I know has evidence of this. In the end, though, it was the union’s choice to stand down rather than to stand up, and they are now reaping what they sowed.


If you are looking for parties to blame, here is the list:


·             Labor unions for caving in and supporting an EIR and permit they knew was flawed.

·             Chevron, for using raw power to push through a permit based on a flawed EIR.

·             Richmond City Council (majority) for becoming Chevron’s enabler and approving a flawed EIR and a flawed permit.

·             The attorneys and consultants who pandered to the City Council with bad advice.


The only one not on this list are the plaintiffs who prevailed in the lawsuit. They knew the approval was illegal and stayed the course. The judge agreed. They were the only party who was actually doing its job, making sure that the project approval process was legal and the permit based on science rather than fluff.


The ball is now in the court of Chevron and the environmental plaintiffs who are already in settlement negotiations. Let’s support and encourage them to reach an agreement that is fair to all and, most importantly, meets the legality test.