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Chevron Calls to Police During Strike Prompt Pushback, Strain on Resources

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An older white man with glasses and a trim white mustache, wearing a navy baseball hat and navy shirt, shouts into a red-and-white bullhorn he holds in his right hand, his left hand pointing to the sky. To his right, farther from the camera, stands a woman in a white tank top and jeans. To the man's left and behind him, out of focus, is a group of people holding signs. One of them says "Fair Contract" and the other says "Strike against Chevron." It appears to be evening time, and behind everyone is what appears to be a black, iron, security fence and a low, white building.
United Steelworkers union member Mike Zielinski speaks on a megaphone during a strike by Chevron employees outside Gate 14 at the Richmond refinery on April 7, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Officials at Chevron's Richmond refinery have called police dozens of times in recent weeks to respond to the facility during a strike that's now entering its seventh week.

The calls come on the heels of financial arrangements worth tens of thousands of dollars that the oil giant made with the Richmond and San Pablo police departments in response to the labor dispute.

In the weeks before the walkout, a group of Richmond police officers were put on standby in case they were needed at the refinery. During the first week of April, Chevron paid the San Pablo Police Department to put officers at the facility's gates. Chevron agreed to pay overtime to both departments to make officers available.

The union behind the strike calls the police contracts and the company's repeated calls to Richmond police an attempt to intimidate strikers. A top Richmond police official says the work has strained the understaffed department. And a member of the Richmond City Council says the police presence is a problematic use of public law enforcement resources at a time when staffing is strained.

"Why are we deploying our police officers to support a corporation like Chevron?" said Richmond City Councilmember Claudia Jimenez, a critic of the company.

On Friday, Chevron announced a profit of $6.3 billion for the first three months of this year, more than quadruple its earnings for the same period a year ago.

The police presence at the Richmond refinery is one element of a labor conflict that sees no signs of ending. Chevron and leaders of United Steelworkers Local 5 have met several times since the walkout began March 21. Neither the company nor the union has indicated that a resolution on the sticking points, which include worker safety as well as pay and benefits, is close.

'Chevron understands the optics'

Four days after the strike began, the refinery's security director asked four law enforcement agencies whether they could station officers outside the facility.

"I was asked to reach out to you and any other police agencies to see if there is any interest in providing, on Chevron paid overtime, uniformed officers to assist in keeping traffic flowing around the refinery," wrote Chevron Security Director Daryl Jackson in a March 25 email to the California Highway Patrol and Richmond, San Pablo and El Cerrito police departments.

The email, obtained by KQED through California Public Records Act requests, describes the job as a "24/7 operation." Two officers would be deployed during the day and two at night.

"Chevron understands the optics, but I've seen some very dangerous vehicle opportunities and those optics have the opportunity to look bad as well," Jackson wrote.

Several hours later, San Pablo Police Chief Ron Raman wrote back, asking whether any of the other law enforcement agencies expressed interest.

"Crickets. Nothing. Nada," Jackson replied.

"Wow. Our rate would be close to $200 an offer [sic] per hour. I can try to fill but it's kind of last minute," Raman wrote. Five days later Chevron and San Pablo police officials began trading emails in order to create a contract, marking the first time that police department ever agreed to such a deal.

"Due to the imminent and ongoing public safety concerns of the events of the refinery, the police department agreed to provide support in the interest of the West Contra Costa County community," Raman told KQED in an email.

Richmond officers deploy to refinery amid staffing shortages

A top Richmond police officer replied to Chevron's security manager on March 28 in a message that laid bare how strained that department has become.

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"We can post an overtime sign-up to see if we garner any interest. However, our patrol officers are currently being forced over on multiple 16-18 hours shifts each week, on forced overtime (minimum staffing)," wrote Capt. Timothy Simmons.

Simmons told Chevron the department had already posted overtime opportunities for officers on several other projects.

"All of these assignments routinely go unfilled because officers are tapped out. We will do our best," wrote Simmons.

In an interview with KQED on Friday, Simmons said that before that exchange, Chevron had arranged for Richmond police officers to be ready in case there was trouble outside the refinery in the weeks leading up to the walkout. Those officers were paid overtime for being on call, but were never sent to the facility.

But since then, Chevron has called Richmond police frequently.

"There's calls for service almost every day down there," Simmons said.

The company has been asking police to clear roads so trucks can drive in and out of the facility. On occasion, officers are asked to respond to complaints of loud music on the picket line. On several occasions, Chevron has reported that one of its managers or contract workers has been assaulted, though police have never been able to substantiate those allegations and have made no arrests.

Simmons says the refinery calls have exacerbated pressure on a department that's suffering from a shortage of officers.

"This is the leanest I have ever seen it," said Simmons, a 13-year veteran of the department. "We are reaching critical mass staffing levels," he added, saying that last week, all officers were ordered to sign up for overtime shifts.

"They [Chevron] are a major customer in our city. And we're getting called down there often. It takes away from other things that that beat officer could be doing," Simmons said.

Emails: Nonunion workers stayed inside refinery for over a week

Jackson, the Chevron security official, asked police agencies for help on April 1 in a message that revealed that non-striking refinery workers had been sleeping at the facility since the walkout began.

"The refinery is re-posturing itself by now allowing the initial workforce to go home for a day or two. This workforce, just like myself, were considered essential workers and have been living within the refinery property since March 20," Jackson wrote.

"I hope to have an orderly transition during that shift change period and having marked units assisting in that endeavor would be great," he wrote.

The use of law enforcement by companies involved in strikes is very much a part of our nation's labor history.

"Strikes with large numbers of workers are more likely to see companies bring in the 'rent-a-cops' than smaller ones," said Fred Glass, an instructor in labor and community studies at City College of San Francisco.

The police response to Bay Area labor disputes has sometimes led to historic episodes of violence. In a 1934 strike, longshore workers shut down the port of San Francisco. Police opened fire on strikers, killing two workers and triggering a general strike in the city. During Oakland's general strike in 1946, police beat strikers on the picket line.

"Most strikes are quite law-abiding, so the use of private security or off-duty police — or for that matter on-duty police — is usually more meant to intimidate than actually protect anything," said Glass, author of "From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement."

A top local United Steelworkers union official says the police arrangements at Chevron's Richmond refinery paint unionized striking workers unfairly as lawbreakers.

"The only reason I think you would have all that is to intimidate our people. But our people are not doing anything wrong. They're conducting themselves well on the picket lines," said B.K. White, vice president of USW Local 5, in an interview.

'A jurisdiction miles away from San Pablo'

Chevron's security manager for the most part seemed happy with the work San Pablo officers did but sent an email to the department's Capt. Brian Bubar on April 6, highlighting an interaction he did not like.

Jackson said Chevron firefighters in the area of the picketers told him an unidentified San Pablo police officer expressed support for the striking workers.

"I understand that officers, of which you know I was one for 33 years, can have an opinion," Jackson wrote. "There's a time and place to express that opinion. This wasn't one of them."

Bubar wrote back, telling Jackson he understood and agreed. He emphasized that his officers were there to "keep the peace" and said that there had been several incidents they'd worked to deescalate involving "both sides."

"I understand the challenges of the situation and the officers are doing their best not to get involved politically," Bubar wrote. "I hope Chevron staff understands that challenge as we're trying to navigate through this in a jurisdiction miles away from San Pablo."

San Pablo Police Chief Raman says his officers were deployed for five days, from April 4 to April 8, and that there are no plans to redeploy officers.

Chevron defends deployments, councilmember challenges them

Chevron says the police deployments are aimed at managing traffic into and out of the refinery.

"We've appreciated the help of some local off-duty officers," said refinery spokesperson Linsi Crain.

The company, on a webpage titled "USW Local 5 Strike at Chevron Richmond," says hiring local police officers is a regular occurrence and that the Richmond and San Pablo officers "encourage safe and smooth movement through gates at times of increased in and out flow of our workforce, supplies and products."

Richmond Councilmember Jimenez — a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which backs USW Local 5 — says it's concerning the city would agree to put police officers on standby for Chevron at a time when the department is having a tough time responding to local 911 calls.

"This is a problem in terms of how the Richmond Police Department decides what's more important to deploy services," Jimenez said in an interview.

Richmond police have yet to outline a full accounting of how much Chevron paid for the department's officers to be on standby before the strike, but the price tag is expected to be in the thousands.

San Pablo police sent an invoice recently to Chevron for $27,500 for the work its officers did the first week of April, according to Chief Raman.



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