CRESSONA - Local union workers showed their support for a proposed $612 million coal-to-oil project near Morea Tuesday by agreeing to help construct it.
"It's going to be a great boost to the economy in Schuylkill County," said Laine S. Gehres, Minersville, field representative for the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craft Workers.
Usually, labor unions sign on to a construction project after the general contractor, according to Leo Gary Martin, Pottsville, president of the Schuylkill County Building & Construction Trades Council.
But on Tuesday, the council, which represents 15 unions, signed the pact, agreeing to work on the future coal gasification plant being developed by Waste Management Processors Inc. (WMPI) LLC, Gilberton.
"This is unique in that we're going directly to the customer and he's saying he has enough faith in us," Martin said.
The "customer," WMPI President John W. Rich Jr., met with 16 local union agents to sign the contract at The River Inn Tuesday morning.
"This issue we're not deferring to the contractor to negotiate.
The company's making the commitment to the trades," Rich said.
"It isn't a problem for the contractors.
But it's an issue we're not going to let open-ended any longer.
We're going to close this issue down."
Meanwhile, WMPI is still negotiating with the project's general contractor, Uhde Corporation of America, Thyssen-Krupp Technologies, Bridgeille.
"So this isn't going to be a negotiating point.
This is going to be a condition they have to live with," Rich said.
We've made the commitments to the jobs, to the rates.
We've been talking about creating quality jobs and we're not going to defer this issue to a sub contractor," he added.
"We trust each other.
And he appreciates all the support we've given him for this project over the past 10 years," Martin said.
Max Hooper, a representative of the business development/gas technologies division of Uhde Corporation, wouldn't comment on the matter Tuesday.
"Those issues are project related and I will leave them to our client," Hooper said, referring to Rich.
The union contract outlines the rules electricians, carpenters and other trades workers will follow on the job.
It's very similar to the one the union signed to work constructing the John B. Rich Memorial Power Station, a co-generation plant in West Mahanoy Township, in 1986.
"It's almost a carbon copy," Martin said.
It contains a no-strike clause and states that union workers will be paid the prevailing wage.
Rich is planning to construct the coal-to-oil plant on a 30 acre industrial site just east of the John B. Rich Memorial Power Station and west of State Correctional Institution/Mahanoy.
"We are anticipating ground breaking," Rich said.
However, he didn't have a date for it.
WMPI first needs final project approval from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Since February, the DOE has been giving a critical final review of the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
The review process is continuing, Rich said.