Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 18th 2014

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Outtakes 9.2.10

BP BETRAYAL The day after the Aug. 24 primary, I stood in the middle of a throng of 250 laid-off oil response workers. It was a blistering hot day on the unforgiving asphalt parking lot at the Fort Pickens gate on Pensacola Beach. The parking lot had been the staging area for Houston-based contractor Plant Performance Services, also known as P2S. All its equipment was being taken off the beach and their workers had been given their pink slips.

For three months, these men and women, dressed in orange and green t-shirts, battled the tar balls on Pensacola Beach. Two days earlier, their employer, P2S, had been notified by O’Brien Response Management that its workers would no longer be needed for the Qualified Community Responder Program on Pensacola Beach. The cleanup work would be taken over by Eagle-SWS, a Panama City-based oil response contractor.

The difference between P2S doing the cleanup work and Eagle-SWS is P2S used workers from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties who were hired through Workforce Escarosa, according to laid-off workers.

“When P2S hired us, we had to have a Florida driver’s license and live in Santa Rosa or Escambia counties,” said Brian Coffey, who stood in the hot sun.

Hiring locals was one of the commitments that BP made to Gov. Charlie Crist and was given special emphasis by the Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI) and the Gulf Economic Recovery Task Force. To assist in the cleanup efforts, Gov. Crist launched the website floridagulfrecoveryjobs.com. On July 27, Florida’s workforce system advertised 14,637 positions and had referred 44,641 job applicants to BP and contractors. The average hourly wage was $20.

A little more than a week after AWI director Cynthia R. Lorenzo reported these statistics to the Gulf Economic Recovery Task Force, BP cut the hourly rate for the workers to $14. BP spokesperson Dawn Patience told the IN, “The new hourly rate was more in line with the wages paid in this region for the type of beach clean-up activities they are performing.”
As of Aug. 30, only 81 positions were advertised on the AWI website, some with a minimum hourly rate of $7.50.

P2S supervisor Marcus Hall doesn’t believe they have been given a fair shake. “We have a better safety record,” Hall told me. “Every day it seems like Eagle-SWS had someone go down due to heat exhaustion or dehydration.”

Fellow laid-off worker Richard Blocker agreed. “This isn’t about performance. My team of seven picked up 400 pounds in one shift just a few days ago. We’re all locals. SWS is bringing in people from the outside.”

Patience denies that claim. “Eagle-SWS has had an office in Pensacola since 1996, and well over 90 percent of the contract workers employed by Eagle-SWS are from this community,” she said.

Once the workers learned that I was a reporter, they swarmed me, all wanting to share their stories. They had taken pride in their work, and appreciated how well P2S had taken care of them.

Logistics coordinator Jerry “Onion” Munger was there to dismantle the staging area. He shared, “Every one of these guys did everything that they were asked and went above and beyond expectations. We had local people cleaning their local beaches.”

Sadly, that is no longer a priority. The crude is no longer flowing from the broken wellhead. BP has handed over responsibility for the claims to Ken Feinberg. And although tar balls are still in our waters and continue to wash onto our beaches, the commitment to hire locals appears to have been forgotten.
Has anyone seen any of the “BP Barbies” lately? Weren’t they to be here until the end?

rick@inweekly.net