Union at odds with nonunion Hispanics at plastics plant site
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kureha Corp. has hired a private security firm in the wake of a series of incidents between union workers and immigrant laborers who are helping the company build a $100 million specialty plastics plant in Belle.
Six security officers with IMAC Security Services now patrol the job site daily.
“We’re trying to ensure the safety of all employees,” said Tom Provost, plant manager. “We did have some incidents. We decided to add some security so no one is exposed to unsafe conditions.”
The tension between the workers escalated earlier this month after a local pipefitter working above other laborers allegedly dropped a wrench near a Hispanic worker who was insulating pipe below at the construction site. Kanawha County sheriff’s deputies were called to the plant to investigate. No arrests were made.
About 35 Hispanic pipe insulators are working at the 5-acre site on the DuPont Belle plant property. They’re employed by Monaco, Pa.-based VersiTech, an industrial insulation company.
“They created the situation by importing all these folks,” said Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, a labor umbrella group. “This is not just about jobs. It’s about people’s livelihoods.”
VersiTech officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
The union pipefitters have alleged that VersiTech hired illegal workers. In response, Kureha called West Virginia Division of Labor officials to the construction site, and the agency verified that the VersiTech workers had proper documentation to work in the United States, Provost said.
White said the Division of Labor asks workers to show identification, but doesn’t verify that the IDs are valid.
“Fake IDs are rampant,” White said. “[The Division of Labor] has no authority to verify any ID.”
A Division of Labor spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Friday.
The VersiTech employees also had to pass a background check before they were permitted on the Belle plant property, Provost said. It was unclear Friday whether the background checks included verification of employment and immigration status.
White said union workers have complained that security officers follow them while they work, but he understands why Kureha hired them. “We’re not going to have an unsafe job site,” White said.
Twenty-one of the 23 subcontractors on the construction site are using local union laborers, White said.
“Overall, it’s been a great project,” he said. “It has created a lot of good jobs at a time when they’re needed. We’re committed to getting the job done, and we’re moving to get past the finger pointing.”
Kureha plans to finish construction on the $100 million plant by the end of the month and start production in mid-November.
The company will manufacture a polyester resin called polyglicolic acid, or PGA, a product that could be used in plastic soft drink bottles, fishing line and food containers.
Kureha has hired more than 300 workers to build the plant, spending about $600,000 a week on employee wages.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said it is unfortunate that not all subcontractors hired union workers, but he said Kureha did nothing wrong.
“You can’t tag this to Kureha,” Carper said. “They’ve been very, very good. This project is important for the whole area.”