When Palm Beach County two years ago awarded a subsidiary of Kellogg Brown & Root a share of a $668 million contract to build a new waste treatment facility, the company's anti-union ways were no secret. But KBR's was the cheapest of three competing proposals, so commissioners gave the firm the job. Members of the local ironworkers union protested, to no avail.
Now the union's back to say "told you so," that union workers are getting stiffed and that KBR's hiring out-of-state labor, so that public money going to wages is leaving instead of circulating here, ultimately costing the county more than it's supposedly saving.
Money aside, we're disgusted the county's doing business for any reason with a company foul as KBR.
KBR will be forever linked with
war criminal former vice-president Dick Cheney, CEO of its parent company Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. In addition to a Nigerian bribery scandal in which Cheney himself was indicted, the company has a history of questionable, no-bid Pentagon contracts, overbilling, offshore tax-dodges, sanctions-skirting and environmental abuses.
Palm Beach officials ignored all that when they awarded the contract for a new waste-to-energy plant to the companies Babcock & Wilcox and KBR subsidiary BE&K, Inc. But company labor practices were hotly debated.
What's happened since has confirmed the union's fears: One strike and you're out.
Mitchell said that in following months he met repeatedly with representatives of BE&K's partner B&W but that "opportunities to bid were promised but never materialized." At one point, he said, a union-affiliated contractor and architect were asked to submit plans for a feature of plant.
"They told us it was too much money," Mitchell said. Then there were personnel changes at B&W and "no more word from anyone there for the last eight months."
Mitchell said the union has no shortage of "local, qualified workers. They're on-time, drug-free, safety-trained--the best of the best. My guys just want to work." Meanwhile, KBR hiring sheets include offers of per diems to workers who live beyond a 50-mile radius of the SWA jobsite.
Union members will be out in strength to picket the next meeting of the SWA board, Wednesday, Feb. 13. The board meets at 9 a.m.; the workers will be there at 8, hoping for a sizable turnout of concerned citizens. The SWA Auditorium is located at 7501 N. Jog Road, WPB.
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