|Chevron Plans To Cut
250 Jobs In Richmond
June 17, 1999
WEST COUNTY TIMES
* COMPANY TO HIRE CONSULTING FIRM TO AUDIT PROCESS; CITY WANTS SAY IN IT
Thursday, June 17, 1999
RICHMOND Chevron plans to eliminate up to 250 jobs at its Richmond refinery and, in a nod to growing public concerns about refinery safety, will hire an outside consultant to review its plans before moving ahead.
Some city officials and environmentalists, however, worried Wednesday about leaving the review under Chevron's control. They argued that the city should oversee it, just as Contra Costa County did with the recent audit of the explosion at Tosco's Avon refinery earlier this year.
"I don't like the idea that Chevron's doing it," said City Councilman Tom Butt. "I think if something like that's going to have any credibility it has to be done by somebody who's truly independent."
"The operation of our refinery is really our responsibility and we are accountable for that," said Chevron spokeswoman Marielle Boortz. "We can't just transfer that responsibility to the city."
Refinery workers this week learned of Chevron's plans to improve efficiency by cutting up to 250 employees by the end of 2000.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Chevron officials pitched an agreement to conduct an independent review of the reorganization to assuage city leaders' fears that staff cuts could compromise community and worker safety. Chevron would commission and manage the review. A split council delayed a vote on the agreement until June 22.
Fueling city concerns are the explosions at Chevron in Richmond and at Tosco near Martinez earlier this year, and the release of more than a ton of toxic gases by Chevron earlier this month.
"We want some assurances that this isn't just to save money," Mayor Rosemary Corbin said. "This is a way for us to ensure that safety isn't being compromised."
State safety and health regulations require a safety analysis before significant changes in refinery staffing are made.
Under Chevron's plan, jobs would be eliminated through early retirements and attrition beginning in the fall, Boortz said. No layoffs are planned.
Boortz said cuts would be made across the board, with the majority in management. Virtually every department except fire would be reduced.
The refinery employs 1,450 and processes 240,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Production isn't expected to be reduced, Boortz said.
The reorganization is the result of a three-year effort by the refinery to identify ways to operate more efficiently, Boortz said.
The company in January began to trim its annual expenses by $500 million and shore up profits that plunged 59 percent last year in the face of the lowest oil prices since the mid-1980s.
Chevron's operating expenses in 1998 totaled nearly $7 billion, according to company figures. Boortz said she did not have an estimate on how much the Richmond reorganization would save.
Union officials said it's premature to say how the cuts would affect safety at the Richmond plant.
"There's a lot of work that has yet to be done on this," said Jeff Dodge, field representative for Paper Allied Industrial Chemical Energy Workers, Local 85, which represents 700 workers at the Richmond refinery. "Fundamentally we're opposed to any reduction in force unless there's a commensurate drop in the work to be performed."
Some workers fear that their safety would be jeopardized.
"You got more responsibility for less people," said Kevin Da Moude, a 15-year operator and volunteer firefighter at the Richmond facility. "The job duties that we now have is enough to keep us busy."
Chevron plans to hire the Arthur D. Little environmental consulting firm to conduct a review that will include public input on how the audit is conducted and on its findings, Boortz said.
In March, Little was commissioned by the county Board of Supervisors to audit Tosco's Avon refinery after four workers were killed in a flash fire Feb. 23. That audit was managed by the county Department of Health Services but paid for by Tosco.
Chevron's audit is expected to be completed by Aug. 31 and the reorganization will move ahead in September. A subsequent review of the reorganization would be conducted by Jan. 1. A final report would be due Jan. 31.
"We'll disclose what they find," Chevron operation manager Rick Zalesky told the council Tuesday. "If we agree with it we will do it. If we don't we'll explain why."
But the idea of the city managing the audit instead of Chevron would lend it greater credibility, said Denny Larson of Communities for a Better Environment.
"I would be very skeptical of going ahead with something that Chevron has cooked up with the auditor despite the fact that they now are going public with (the reorganization)," Larson said.