Lima Workers Fighting to Keep 3,000 Jobs for Ohioans

Author: Taylor Dorrell
Date: August 27, 2021

    Yesterday, workers gathered in the summer heat to protest the Lima oil refinery’s owner Cenovus and their decision to bring in around 3,000 workers from outside of Ohio to work on the refinery during its scheduled maintenance shutdown.

    In the past, this work has been contracted to local or Ohio workers, most of whom are in trades unions that guarantee a livable wage and benefits. The move to bring in non-union workers from mostly Texas has thousands of Lima residents who’ve been working at the plant for years, some for generations, asking what they’re supposed to do for work.

    Every five years the Lima refinery shuts down for scheduled maintenance. The refinery is currently in pre-shutdown and scheduled to officially shutdown in September for 6-10 weeks. In the past this work has naturally been contracted to Ohio workers, but in June, Cenovus made the unexpected announcement that the contracts would instead be given to thousands of out of state workers.

Cenovus Energy

    The company has carefully downplayed the financial aspect of the decision, telling Lima News that while “cost plays a role in the decision process — in reality, safety and quality were the main drivers.”

    Cenovus maintains they selected the contractors’ bid based first on safety then skill then price. However, the shutdown work has consistently been done by in-state workers who point out they’ve worked 21,000,000 hours since 2005 without a lost time injury and have more skill and experience since they’ve been doing it for years. This has led to workers and Lima residents questioning the motives of Cenovus.

    Cenovus Energy Inc. is a Canadian energy company with natural gas and oil production operations in the Asia Pacific region and Canada along with refining, upgrading, and marketing operations in Canada and the U.S.. The Lima oil refinery was owned by Husky Energy until the company was bought out by Cenovus on January 1 of this year.

    According to their quarterly report, absorbing Husky Energy’s assets along with increased demand has increased their output from 162,300 barrels per day to 435,500. For context, the Lima refinery processes 165,000 barrels per day, more than Cenovus’ entire daily amount previous to absorbing Husky Energy.

Lima Jobs

   Tim LuceWireman joined Local 329, an affiliate of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), in 1973. His family has worked at the refinery for four generations and he claims he’s never seen anything like this.

    In an interview with Real Progress In Action he said, “we’ve never had an owner that’s come in here without any warning and said that “by the way for the Lima, Ohio community and for the county and the surrounding counties and even the state of Ohio, we’re going to take your jobs as Ohio workers and we’re going to hand them to people from out of state.””

    Lima, Ohio has seen many of its industrial and manufacturing jobs leave over the years - an extension of the familiar rust belt stories. Until the 1950s, Lima had factories like the train manufacturer Lima Locomotive Works and an earth mover crane plant, Ohio Steam Shovel Co. and until 1980 Lima had a school bus and hearse manufacturer, Superior Coach Company. Then in 2001 the Philips factory just outside of Lima moved to Mexico. The oil refinery, however, has weathered competition, globalization, and deindustrialization.

    The refinery was established over 130 years ago in 1886, switching ownership many times over the years, but never ceasing operations. Now it produces almost two billion gallons of refined petroleum every year, processing 6.9 million gallons of crude oil everyday. Operating 24 hours a day, the Lima refinery accounts for a quarter of all gasoline consumption in Ohio and also processes diesel, jet fuel, residual fuels and petrochemical feedstock.

Ohio Jobs for Ohio Workers

    The Lima oil refinery is key to Ohio’s gasoline supply and the local economy of Lima. Lima residents worry that bringing in thousands of out of town workers would funnel millions of dollars of salaries and taxes away from Ohio and the local economy.

    The statewide coalition started in response to the decision, Ohio Jobs for Ohio Workers, is trying to reverse Cenovus’ decision. They estimate that 1.7-1.8 million hours ($70 million in wages (not including pensions or benefits)) will be lost for Ohio workers.

    The group has been holding rallies, events, and going out in the community to gain support. But when they held a town hall for Cenovus to plead their case, the company didn’t show up. While Lima’s city council has gotten on board, they still face a conservative backlash with a hostile chamber of commerce and the county commissioners. Worker and organizer Taft Mangas says to remember that they’re in “one of the reddest parts of Ohio.” But even the media has been silent on the situation, only local news in Lima has kept up as things have developed.

    Mangas says that they’ll continue to escalate as time goes on, not ruling out a work stoppage. Right now there’s a petition with 1,600 signatures and rallies being held outside of the refinery regularly, but Cenovus hasn’t yet given any indication of reversing the decision to contract thousands of non-union members from out of Ohio.

    LuceWireman emphasized the hard work and dedication of Lima’s refinery workers who’ve kept the plant running over 130 years: “when it’s 10 below zero with winds blowing at 20 or 30 mph, you get the call at 2 in the morning, “Hey we need a crew out here to help thaw the lines or otherwise we’re going to have trouble”, the laborers and the pipefitters and the boilermakers and all of the trades come running.” He said, “This is just a real shocker I think to everyone that lives in our area. It doesn’t matter what kind of political persuasion you are because everybody agrees that these should be Ohio jobs for Ohio workers.”