Union workers wait in limbo amid refinery shutdown, seek political pull for help

Kim Glovas
July 02, 2019 - 5:22 pm
Refinery fire

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Oil workers held a meeting Tuesday with more than a dozen state and federal lawmakers to discuss what's next for the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. 

Unionized workers have not yet been furloughed, but they're concerned about their futures. 

At a meeting at United Steelworkers Local 10-1 in Norwood, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon addressed the crowd. 

"We've already been in touch with other members of Congress who've had refinery problems, refinery shutdowns, to try to see what lessons they learned and how they can help us out," she said. "We're starting those conversations, but ... what path is going on here? What is PES doing? And that become a little clearer today." 

Last week, Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed the closure of PES within the next month, impacting more than 1,000 workers, as well as the businesses dependent on the refinery operations. The closure comes after years of financial problems, in which the refinery exited bankruptcy last year.

And while city health officials say the air is safe and there are no long-term negative effects following the fire, community members are still concerned about the air quality.

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Scanlon suggests looking at investment opportunities to restart the refinery. Union President Ryan O'Callaghan said he's heard critics say it should be converted into a solar panel farm. 

But the law states that the property would have to be returned to its original condition before it was a refinery in 1853, and that would take 20 years.

"The answer is to restart the refinery now," said O'Callaghan, "and we need the political will from our elected officials to do that. Otherwise, our elected officials will come to terms with what programs and social services they will be cutting in the near future."

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Casey said he has worked with PES to enable workers to be paid through Aug. 25.

Scanlon's office, which represents the district where the refinery is based, also wants the investigation into the fire to get started. 

At least five federal agencies want to find out what happened, but Scanlon said PES is holding them off.