WHEELING, W.Va. — Last year, with natural gas selling around $1.30 per unit higher than it is now, roughly 5,000 members of the Upper Ohio Valley Building Trades Council saw “full employment” because they built processing plants and compressor stations across the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.
Now, the workers who showed up at the intersection of 16th and Main streets in downtown Wheeling on Thursday afternoon said about 20 percent of building trades construction workers are without jobs. To them, this is unacceptable when everywhere they look, they see more pipelines, more compressor stations and more processing infrastructure.
“The price of gas dropped, so now they want to low-ball everything,” Gaylerd Hull, a pipefitter from Benwood, said. “It’s been a boom for the area, but it’s not as good as it could be now.”
Protesters said instead of hiring local workers, many companies building in the fields simply transport their employees from states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. This is evident by the numerous RV parks throughout the area accommodating such out-of-state workers.
“I mean, you’ve got ‘Oil City’ out by the (Ohio Valley) Mall full of them. Why can’t they hire local first, then if they need more, bring them in,” Hull said.
“They want cheap labor, period,” said Doug Giffin, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers No. 141. “This could be an economic boom for this area. But the resources are being pumped out and some of the wages are being pumped out.”
Recently, Southwestern Energy Co. donated $500,000 to fund scholarships for petroleum technology programs at West Virginia Northern Community College and Pierpont Community and Technical College, with each institution receiving $250,000. However, building trades members said specialized training such as this is not necessary for most of the jobs in the oilfield.
“With the amount of work going on here, not one of our members should be out of work,” Giffin said.
As the protesters rallied, numerous motorists beeped their horns on the way by to express their support for the cause.
“We really don’t want to fight with these companies. We just want them to know that we are qualified, we are drug tested and we are here. There is no reason for our members to not get this work,” Giffin added.