February 14, 2008 at 7:24 am #3794
State fines refinery contractor
By JAN FALSTAD
Of The Gazette StaffTurner Industries Group LLC, the Louisiana company hired by CHS Inc. to build the $325 million coker facility at the Laurel refinery, was fined $60,000 last month by the state of Montana for hiring unlicensed electricians for the project. The company paid $40,000 of the fine, and the remainder was stayed.
The legal dispute went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court before the sides negotiated a settlement.
Lorraine Schneider, an attorney for the Business Standards division of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, said in addition to the company’s fine, another $1,000 fine was levied against John Noland, the master electrician who works for Turner. “This is not the first time it has happened, but the scale was bigger,” she said. “It’s the largest fine I’m aware of.”
Under Montana law, both the general contractor and the master electrician on the job have to be licensed, and in this case Turner and Noland were legally licensed.
However, the Department of Labor started receiving complaints last fall that 79 unlicensed employees were performing electrical work at CHS that required state-licensed workers. The State Electrical Board investigated and filed disciplinary actions against Turner and Noland.
Attorneys for Turner Industries quickly filed a motion in Yellowstone County District Court to stop the disciplinary action, claiming that the company and all petroleum refineries are exempt from the state law and that the department was exceeding its legal authority.
A District Court judge in Yellowstone County issued an order stopping the department’s disciplinary action until a ruling could be made on the case.
“We felt they were clearly wrong, but they went to District Court and got the writ or prohibition,” Schneider said. “So we were basically frozen in place.”
A hearing was set for November. But then CHS or Cenex Harvest States, a St. Paul, Minn., cooperative that owns the Laurel refinery, filed a petition to intervene as a party on behalf of Turner and Noland. The department objected, saying CHS had no legal grounds to intervene.
With the case tangled up, Schneider filed a petition with the Montana Supreme Court asking it to quash the lower court’s ruling and allow the department to proceed in fining Turner.
The parties reached a deal in January, and the State Electrical Board approved the agreement Jan. 10. In addition to the fines, Turner agreed to comply with the Montana laws and use only licensed electricians where required, Schneider said.
Contact Jan Falstad at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1306.
Refinery sting continues; immigrants head to detention
MHP officers have cited 12 drivers for not having Montana license plates
By JAN FALSTAD and ZACH BENOIT Of The Gazette StaffLFeb 14, 2008, LAUREL – A sting operation to crack down on CHS refinery workers for vehicle registration requirements continued Wednesday, and nine illegal immigrants arrested at the refinery Monday were on their way to a detention facility in Arizona.
State law requires anyone working in Montana to register his or her vehicle.
On Monday, members of the Montana Highway Patrol and Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office stationed at the exit to an employee parking lot began pulling over employees with out-of-state license plates as they left.
Through Tuesday, MHP officers had pulled over at least 31 drivers, issued 12 gainful-registration citations and given out 19 warnings. County deputies also issued citations and warnings beginning on Monday.
Patrol Sgt. Scott Ayers said numbers for Wednesday’s operation – which included four MHP officers and several county deputies – won’t be available until later today. There was a significant reduction in violations, he said.
“Progressively, we’re getting compliance,” Ayers said. “Monday, probably 50 percent of the vehicles were from out of state. The second day, it was about 20 percent, and today it was only about 5 percent.”
He said the decrease is likely because of “more (workers) who just went out and got their plates.”
Trooper Seth Cavalea said that whether a driver is issued a citation or a warning is up to the officer’s discretion. He said that if the driver was cited in the past year or had recently moved to Montana, it could be the difference between a citation and a warning.
The operation began after law enforcement officials received a number of complaints about out-of-state license plates at the refinery.
Illegal immigrants Monday’s sting also resulted in the arrest of nine illegal immigrants. During the operation, refinery employees informed officers of several people attempting to escape by scaling a refinery fence and running into the adjacent fields.
Ayers said that, to his knowledge, no illegal immigrants were arrested in the sting Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tim Counts, Minneapolis spokesman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said the nine illegal immigrants arrested Monday were driven from Helena to Twin Falls, Idaho, on Wednesday. Today they will be flown on a Justice Prisoner and Alien Transport System jet to a processing facility in Arizona. They will end up at a detention facility in Eloy, Ariz.
“We expect most, if not all, of them will be deported,” he said. “We’ve determined most of them were illegal aliens.”
If the workers voluntarily sign off on deportation, they could be back in their home country in a couple of days, Counts said. If they fight deportation, the legal process can drag out for months or years.
With more than 400 federal statutes governing immigration and customs laws, Counts said his department has to set priorities on enforcement, with the top being national security and the second community safety.
When asked about the priority of suspected illegal aliens working at a refinery on the outskirts of a city like Laurel, Counts said critical infrastructure facilities such as airports and water treatment plants are high on the list.
“And it is a good argument that a refinery would be higher on the list than a fast-food outlet,” he said.
However, ICE takes more than one factor into account when ranking enforcement actions, including quality of the information received, he said.
Out-of-state workersBob Papin, business manager for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 30, said that when Turner Industries Group out of Baton Rouge, La., was hired to construct the CHS refinery coker last spring, skilled labor in the Billings area was scarce.
The locals were busy doing the spring turnaround or annual maintenance work at the same refinery in Laurel, Papin said, so most of the workers Turner brought in for the coker project were from out of state. At the height of the work, as many as 2,400 people were working at CHS, he said.
Workers reporting to him have been complaining for almost a year, he said, that the parking lot was full of vehicles with out-of-state plates and asking why state and local laws were not being enforced.
That some workers may have been jumping the refinery fence Monday evening and escaping the sting operation concerns him.
“You’re working in a facility that is highly dangerous, and if you have people in there who are not skilled or trained to be in there, you’re creating some situation that could be detrimental to the health and lives of everybody,” Papin said.
While there may have been a labor shortage of local skilled workers last spring, there isn’t now, said Rion Miles, business agent for the Operating Engineers Local 400. Miles also serves as president of the Southeastern Montana Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents more than a dozen unions.
“I can tell you right now all the union trades have people sitting on their out-of-work lists now,” he said.
Published on Thursday, February 14, 2008.
February 14, 2008 at 7:26 am #7042
A couple good articles about the CHS Laurel Refinery & State taken strong action against the serious threat of contractors using illegal aliens to work in construction sites with unlicensed & unskilled workers on work in that expose everyone in the plant to dangerous concequences due to the operating environment.
The excuse by Turner Industries was pitful and it didn’t take the State long to expose them have 79 unlicensed electricans working the site – unfortunately the fine was modest at best. Still it exposes the company for the type of operation it ran & even fined the individual master electrician who worked for Turner.
I would hope everyone take note of this company & avoid doing business with them, a couple electricians caught is oversight but 79…….pure greed and stupidity and deserves to be rewarded as such.
I am sure this issue was brought to light by the second news article about a sting operation that caught 9 illegal aliens leaving the refinery (jumping fence & running to field) when complaints were filed about out of state licenses on cars in the plant for over a year. Montana doesn’t recycle a problem & the 9 were sent to Arizona for deportation on Monday.
Bob Papin with Turner gave the same lame excuse that Bechtel, KBR and other larger firms have been dishing out for years – “there weren’t enough skilled local workers” and then use it as excuse to bring in the cheapest work force they can which often as in this case are also unskilled. But CHS workers know how cry “Bullshit” when they hear it!
But they didn’t count on the aggressive interest of the Local unions or the active involvement by the refinery workers as to what was going on in their refinery and persistant action to get it corrected. It is great example of how these types of wrongs and safety risks get corrected.
I had the good fortune to work at one of the refineries in Billings and loved the area and people (unfortunately I also had work strike duty) but I never got used to cowboys that looked like Texans but talked like people from California. And since Billings & Laurel area probably have about half the states population (once you subtract the tourist) so good paying jobs like the refinery workers end up with a good majority of the labor force having a degree in something and a lot of questions about what happens to their workplace and the environment.
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