Caught in the Devil’s Bargain, Chevron stabs workers in the back.

Have you seen the latest story coming out about Chevron and their troubles in Richmond, CA?  Seems since they didn’t get their way in ramming through a giant expansion of their refinery, the Oil Giant is threatening to close up shop, dismantle the 3,000 acre facility and sell the parts at the world’s largest garage sale in China.  Huh?  Get rid of your largest refinery in the most profitable market in the Pacific?  What’s really going on?

Chevron logo and refinery

A strange thing happened when Chevron made their latest move to expand their huge refinery operations in Richmond California, a town mostly known for crime, drugs, failing schools and pollution.  When Chevron’s mega-million dollar expansion won approval from the City and the local Air agency, the project was immediately appealed in Court based on some serious and upfront legal issues. That’s not the strange part. That’s what refineries expect.

The strange part is that, knowing full well that the Court would mandate that work on the project halted until the approval documents were fixed, Chevron played an unbelievably cruel trick on the families of more than a thousand construction workers.  Chevron hired these workers knowing that if the court rejected the questionable environmental estimates (which almost anyone could predict), the workers would have to be laid off, possibly for more than a year.

Why would a local employer and alleged good corporate citizen hire a bunch of people when they knew they would let them go soon afterwards?  Simple.  Chevron wanted to silence their critics by setting up the false choice of jobs versus the environment and in fact bury them for good.  In recent years the local City Council, the Mayor and local watchdog groups have grown weary of Chevron’s threats and bullying tactics to skirt taxes and regulations and claim of being a good neighbor.

It would appear that Chevron executives knew all too well that the legal challenge to the expansion could succeed and result in an injunction to stop work and throw the fate of the 1,000 workers and their families into ditch.  This apparently choreographed loss of jobs would effectively not only nullify any victory that Chevron critics could claim from the ruling, but in fact make community health advocates into seemingly heartless villains caring nothing about the workers.  And as Chevron’s appeal of the ruling proceeds, it gives them the opportunity to use the workers as pawns in their longer term scheme to silence their critics once and for all.

And so far it’s working.  Chevron has fostered dozens of stories in the mainstream media about:

  • the hopes of working families being dashed by treehuggers  and radicals.
  • Non profits like local solar companies losing their Chevron community benefit dollars tied to the project
  • Union leaders crying like Chicken Little that the sky is falling
  • Chevron closing the refinery and selling the parts to China (my personal favorite!)
  • Richmond withering away and dieing after having killed its goose and golden egg

The real story doesn’t seem to have gotten out yet about the cold calculating scheme Chevron hatched.  This is due in part to their million dollar PR machine and the heart wrenching stories of laid off workers.   But you have to give them credit, as Chevron’s ad campaign touts the power of their “Human Energy” (link).

Or is it just another example how the Oil Giant uses its brute force to crush people who demand accountability, like the indigenous folks in Ecuador and the dozens of other regions they have exploited and left behind polluted and poor?