A top executive at a petrochemical plant visited this summer by Donald Trump called on his industry not to fight a “wage war” for workers, in remarks that raised antitrust concerns with labor advocates and legal experts.
“Just driving up wage rates and focusing only on monetary attraction as a solution has impacts that outlast our projects long after they’re built,” Paul Marsden, a senior vice-president of Bechtel, which is currently building the Shell Pennsylvania Chemicals plant in Potter Township, Pennsylvania, said at an industry conference on 20 June. “But as an industry, my ask is that we’ve got to think broader than this.
“What we can’t afford, especially as an emerging and growing region, is a wage war,” Marsden added, during a talk at a petrochemical industry conference. “Because I can tell you, we will lose.”
Marsden’s remarks were made to a room full of executives from plastics and petrochemical companies, at a time when the petrochemical industry is planning a massive expansion into Appalachia, backed by the Trump administration, and US unemployment has hit a 50-year low.
Bechtel, which is the project manager for the Shell plant, also announced at the conference in Pittsburgh that it expects to play a major role in a second multibillion petrochemical construction job in the region. Marsden announced that his company was chosen to serve as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor at a $6bn petrochemical construction project planned in nearby Belmont county, Ohio, pending a final investment decision by Thailand-based PTT Global, expected later this year.
During his remarks in Pittsburgh, Marsden displayed a slide showing the logos of the 15 specific trade unions working for Bechtel at the Shell chemical plant.
“I believe there are real wage-fixing concerns here,” Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director of the corporate watchdog organization Open Markets Institute, told the Guardian.
“This type of activity is collusive or a prelude to collusion,” Vaheesan said. “At a minimum, the remarks should be treated as inviting rivals not to compete for workers.”