A newspaper story Thursday reported a federal indictment against a Texas-based company accused of bringing illegal workers to the Marcellus Shale fracking fields.
Coincidentally, workers in West Virginia are staffing road-side positions, protesting the practice of some Marcellus-related companies bringing out-of-state workers to take jobs for which local workers are available.
“We have a lot of people trained to do the work,” Stephen “Vern” Montoney, of Randolph County, W.Va told me last week.
Montoney was one of about a half-dozen workers waving at passing traffic from behind signs saying, “Build Here, Hire Here!” and, “I Support Local Jobs for Local Workers.”
There are no laws in West Virginia, or in Pennsylvania, requiring out-of-state employers to hire in-state workers for any kind of work.
One might expect drill operations to require highly skilled and experienced workers be imported from fracking fields in such places as Texas and Oklahoma, brought to the Pa. and W.Va. drilling fields with the rigs they would operate.
At the other end of the hiring spectrum, hospitality and restaurants likely would meet the definition of local workforce.
It’s those in-between jobs – for instance, surveyors to define land the gas extraction companies will lease, loggers to clear the well pads and pipeline pathways, and welders to assemble the pipes – that require skilled workers likely available in the local workforce.
And it was in that group that federal investigators claim to have discovered illegal immigrants imported by GPX, of Sealy, Texas. The indictment says GPX brought the workers to perform seismic and surface surveying in Lycoming County.
The company’s field operations supervisor, Douglas C. Wiggil, of Fort Worth, Texas, pleaded not guilty to his part in the charges Tuesday in U.S. Middle District Court, and posted $10,000 bond.
Back in Salem, W.Va., within sight of a pipeline being installed on a near vertical slope, Rick Taylor, of Clay County, said in-state welders in that region are being replaced by imported workers.
“We’ve got close to 700 members in the state (West Virginia),” said Taylor, a representative of Pipeliners Union 798. “We’re just trying to get work for them.”
He said in addition to replacing locally available workers, the imported laborers, are required to pass welding certification examinations less stringent than the Pipeliners union requires.
According to Montoney, the state was on its way to passing a bill that would have required local employment where possible, and defined local as within 75 miles of the job, but gas and oil companies mounted a successful effort to beat it back.
Bringing out-of-state, less expensive, workers to a job site is not a new tactic. About 20 years ago, union workers struck the International Paper mill near where I lived. The company replaced the strikers with permanent employees, supplied and bused to the town by a South Carolina-based manpower supply company.
Importing illegal workers is, even to my admittedly left-leaning mind, running away from a line already crossed. We often hear from pro-capitalism employers that the market can and will establish whether a product can be profitable.
But isn’t their labor the worker’s product? And how large is the market. It seems to me there is a fairness issue, one not balanced when workers in one area are pitted against workers imported from other nations. This is not a question of farmers being unable to find U.S. citizens willing to work in the fields for paltry wages.
Rather, it is, or appears to be, a case of “if you can’t move the job to foreign workers, then move foreign workers to the job.”
GPX, if it is found guilty of knowingly hiring illegal workers, reportedly faces a maximum $10 million fine, five years probation on each of 20 counts, and an $8,000 special assessment.
To be fair, the Pa. Department of Labor and Industry reports that 74 percent of Marcellus Shale new hires in the state are from Pennsylvania. Even so, if an established company cannot be profitable in a place without tax breaks and other subsidies, it should go elsewhere or produce another product.
On the other hand, if local workers’ wages send the company in search of other, financially friendlier climes, the locals might want to rethink their wage demands.
That’s the marketplace.
Anything else only warps the oft-touted playing field.
Photo by daviesg
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