Contact: Jamie Horwitz
Embargoed for release June 7, 2016
Proposed Changes to Tanker Escorts Threaten Jobs, the Economy and the Waters of Prince William Sound, Say Maritime Unions
Television Ad Campaign in Alaska Asks the Public to Join the Fight Against Plan to “Undercut” Alaska and Send Good Jobs Out of State
ANCHORAGE –This week, two maritime unions that represent captains and crews who guide oil tankers and protect the environment in Prince William Sound will begin an unprecedented television advertising campaign warning that a plan to cut the cost of escort vessels and environmental response teams will “undercut” the Alaska economy and possibly endanger the waters of Prince William Sound.
The advertisements, paid for by the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P).and the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), raise questions about the wisdom of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company’s plan to replace longtime operator Crowley Maritime Services with Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO).
“This is unprecedented for our unions to make a direct appeal to Alaskans via the media over a contract issue,” said MM&P President Don Marcus. “But, the threat to jobs and the environment also are unprecedented. We know that others will want to join this fight and not let exports from Cut Off, La., undercut Alaska.”
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, operates the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and its Valdez terminal, and is principally controlled by owners ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips. The current contract for tanker escorts and oil spill response expires in 2018. Crowley is under contract to provide services through June 2018. Alyeska expects to finalize its decision about its maritime partners early this summer.
Crowley, which operates both the escort tugboats and the oil spill response vessels that deal with oil spills or other accidents, has a 25-year record of keeping Prince William Sound safe. Its crews proudly wear patches on their clothing that display the words “Guardians of Prince William Sound.”
By contrast, Edison Chouest is best known in Alaska for its culpability in the wreck of the Kulluk oil rig in 2012 off Kodiak Island. In addition, Edison Chouest plans to replace Crowley’s 250 workers, based in the port town of Valdez, with their own workers from Louisiana. Among those losing their jobs will be 40 Alaska Natives.
“We’re taking our message to the public because this is bad news for the Alaska economy and for the safety of Prince William Sound and it’s important for elected leaders and the citizens of Alaska to know what’s at stake,” Marcus said. “We shouldn’t be sending jobs out of state during Alaska’s recession or cutting corners when it comes to safety. No one wants the poor safety record that is found in the Gulf of Mexico oil patch to become the new normal in Alaska. Crowley has maintained the highest level of safety at a reasonable cost.”
“Right now, in the town of Cut Off, La., workers are training to take these Alaska jobs,” said IBU’s Alan Cote. “The Edison Chouest workers will continue to live in Louisiana and commute to Alaska and stay in man camps and then rotate home to the bayous. This will hurt Alaska’s economy and the town of Valdez in particular.”
Public officials in the communities surrounding Prince William also have voiced reservations about the switch in companies. In March, Donna Schantz, Executive Director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC), told Alaska Public Radio that far more than a contract is at stake. She said that this decision is about “a key oil-spill prevention and response measure for Prince William Sound” and that Crowley plays a “very, very important role.”
The RCAC, set up after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, monitors transportation issues and represents a large cross-section of Alaskans. It defines itself as “a voice for the people and groups with the most to lose from another catastrophic crude oil spill in Prince William Sound. The council’s 18 member-organizations include representatives from communities, aquaculture, commercial fishing, environmental, Alaska Native, recreation, and tourism groups. They include communities and interest groups in a region stretching from the sound itself to Kodiak Island to lower Cook Inlet—all areas that were touched by oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”
Robert Archibald, who lives in Homer and recently retired after 30 years at Crowley, of which 22 years were spent working on tugs in Valdez, said Alaska oil industry experience is critical to ensuring safety. “The oil industry is facing a tough period and belt-tightening is required, but you don’t want to eliminate institutional knowledge and do things on the cheap with a company that has a poor track record, and when the risks to the economy and the environment are so great,” he said. “This is a place where experience counts.”
“Thank God that the unions are giving voice to this fight,” added Carl Jones, who lives in Palmer and has worked as a Chief Engineer for Crowley for the past 15 years. “This affects communities beyond those who work on the water. Our political leaders in Alaska talk a good game about jobs and the economy and yet here are good jobs that can and should be saved and they’ve remained silent. These jobs aren’t being lost; they’re being given away. Our leaders should be challenging Alyeska’s thinking. This decision is penny-wise and frankly damn foolish.”
Edison Chouest has received large subsidies from the state and county governments in Mississippi and Louisiana to bid on Alaska work and other projects in return for promises of job creation in those states.
In the unions’ television advertisements, a narrator describes the Alyeska proposal to shift jobs to Louisiana workers while video shows Crowley vessels at work and Crowley workers in the port of Valdez. The camera then cuts to scenes from a training facility in Cut Off, La., followed by a news clip of the Kulluk disaster. The commercial ends with the words: “to save Alaska jobs and to keep Prince William Sound safe and clean, join the fight at SoundjobsforAlaska.org. Don’t let Cut Off, La., undercut Alaska.”
The commercial, “Cut Off,” can be viewed at SoundJobsforAlaska.org. The ad directs listeners to an online petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/964/178/195/.