About 300 BP union employees will keep their jobs — for now

BP’s operations center at Prudhoe Bay. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

About 300 BP union workers at Prudhoe Bay will remain in their jobs, at least through the end of their current contract. 

That’s according to Hilcorp, the oil company set to take over BP’s entire business in Alaska. 

But the leader of the union representing those workers said he remains uncertain about Hilcorp’s relationship with labor going forward.

“We haven’t had any formal meetings with them yet,” said Kristjan Dye, president of United Steelworkers local 4959.

“Until we really sit down and talk to them, I don’t know for sure,” Dye said. 

Prudhoe Bay is split, in terms of workers. On the west side of the oilfield, BP Alaska has about 300 United Steelworkers employees. On the east side, all employees are at-will. That’s a legacy from when Prudhoe Bay was owned by two separate oil companies, before BP purchased Arco in 2000.

Dye said his union negotiated its latest contract with BP in January, and it includes an agreement that the 300 workers have jobs for three years, even if BP sells to another company. 

Which is, of course, exactly what happened in August, when Hilcorp announced it intends to buy all of BP’s Alaska business for $5.6 billion.

In an emailed statement, Hilcorp spokesperson Justin Furnace said, “Hilcorp will honor the existing labor contracts governing union employees associated with the acquisition.”

But Dye said he still feels uncertain about union workers’ long-term prospects with Hilcorp.

“The interesting time may come when the contract has to be renegotiated. Then, we’ll just have to see what happens,” he said.

Hilcorp did not respond to emailed questions about what happens after the contract with United Steelworkers ends, or if the company currently employs any union laborers. 

Dye said he doesn’t know if the union’s relationship with Hilcorp will be much more difficult than its relationship with BP. United Steelworkers sued BP last year over a contract dispute. And, he said, some workers were frustrated that BP wasn’t exploring for oil more aggressively.

“Right now, people have kind of mixed emotions because on one hand, they realize we’re getting a new employer and that they aren’t really union friendly,” Dye said. “But on the other hand, they would like to start making oil again and Hilcorp does have a reputation for making oil.”

BP’s sale also included the company’s interest in the trans-Alaska pipeline. Harvest Alaska, a Hilcorp affiliate, will take BP’s place at the owner’s table when the sale is finalized. 

And Alyeska now employs a blend of union and non-union employees, according to Michelle Egan, a spokesperson for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. 

“Changing a TAPS owners does not change the union make-up of our workforce or the workforce of our contractors,” Egan said in an email.

Hilcorp’s Harvest Alaska will be part of the group of owners that approves contracts going forward, which also includes affiliates of ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Unocal. 

In a follow-up email, Egan said “I can’t speculate about what might happen in the future,” and described Ayeska as “agnostic” on unions, adding, “we don’t dictate the terms of any contractor’s relationship with their employees.”

Other BP employees may be leaving Prudhoe Bay much sooner than their union counterparts. They have been given three options — to apply for jobs with BP outside Alaska, to request to leave BP with a severance package or to apply for a job with Hilcorp.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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