Trump’s large union crowd at Shell was given the option of not showing up — and not getting paid
The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was to either spend Tuesday standing in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak, or to take the day off with no pay.
“Your attendance is not mandatory,” read the rules that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those that showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.
“NO SCAN, NO PAY,” the rules said.
Those that decided to sit out the event would have an excused absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday. The company has a 56-hour workweek with 16 hours of overtime. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work on Friday meeting the overtime threshold are being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those that didn’t go to hear the president are being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site on Tuesday.
“This is just what Shell wanted to do and we went along with it,” said Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters local 449.
The local has 2,400 workers on the site and Mr. Broadbent said he would not “bad rap about it one way or another.”
“We’re glad to have the jobs. We’re glad to have the project built,” he said. “The president is the president whether we like him or dislike him. We respect him for the title.”
Mr. Broadbent said anyone who did not want to show up to work that day was free to do so. “This is America,” he said.
One union leader, reached on Friday, who asked not to be named because he did not want to make trouble for his workers, said that one day of pay might amount to around $700 in pay, benefits and a per diem payment that out-of-town workers receive.
Ray Fisher, a spokesman for Shell, said on Friday that “this was treated as a paid training day with a guest speaker who happened to be the President.”
He said workers engaged in “safety training and other activities” in the morning.
“It’s not uncommon for us to shut down the site for quarterly visits from VIPs — popular sports figures like Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris have visited the site to engage with workers and to share inspirational messages. Shell/Penske NASCAR driver, Joey Logano was another guest at the site,” Mr. Fisher said.
Several union leaders said they were not consulted about the arrangement before it was sent out. Shell’s list, however, suggested they had green lit it.
“No yelling, shouting, protesting or anything viewed as resistance will be tolerated at the event,” the paper read. “An underlying theme of the event is to promote good will from the unions. Your building trades leaders and jobs stewards have agreed to this.”
Mr. Trump received a generally warm and at times cheerful welcome at Shell, where he talked about his political grievances and name-called opponents as much as he praised the natural gas extracted in Appalachia, which will be processed at the Shell plant into plastic pellets.
He also called out union leadership, which Shell had requested to be in attendance.
“I’m going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, ‘I hope you’re going to support Trump.’ OK?” he said. “And if they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job.”
More than a dozen unions work at the Shell site, the largest construction project in the state.