Small Community Swollen By Hundreds Of Job Seekers With PM-Tanker Spill, Bjt
VALDEZ, Alaska (AP) _ For Lynette Clark, there may be a $16-an-hour pot of gold at the end of the oil spill cleanup rainbow.
She and hundreds of others have crowded into this Prince William Sound community in search of work and hefty paychecks.
They live in mobile homes, school buses, soggy tents. Mostly, they wait.
″We’ve got all our pigs in a poke and our options working,″ said Clark, a gold miner from a town near Fairbanks who has been here a week. She set up housekeeping in her battered green car in a gravel parking lot.
″Things haven’t gotten savage here, yet,″ she said, smiling. ″They might, but they haven’t. It’s a real boom-town atmosphere. It’s so similar to the North Slope in the 1970s when they were building the pipeline.″
Exxon has said it will hire 4,000 people by early June to help clean up the nation’s worst oil spill.
After loading up at the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal here, the Exxon Valdez rammed Bligh Reef on March 24, dumping more than 10 million gallons of heavy North Slope crude oil into Prince William Sound. The oil has moved out of the sound, soiling Gulf of Alaska beaches.
When word of Exxon’s initial cleanup plan got out, a steady stream of job hunters headed to Valdez.
The Alaska Department of Labor Job Service office, which tries to match employers with workers, has been forced to bring in three additional staff members and stay open seven days a week to keep up.
″In the last two weeks, the number coming through this office has grown daily,″ said the agency’s Pat Wilson. ″We’re averaging 500 a day. That’s in a town with a population of 3,000. And the volume is growing, definitely growing.″
Before the spill, perhaps 20 people a day came looking for work, she said.
Now, jobs for waitresses, cooks, maids go begging. A bulletin board in the jobs agency is covered with cards seeking workers. But most of the newcomers are holding out for the big banana, an Exxon job ankle deep in oil.
The Job Service receives up to 300 telephone calls a day from people seeking work. The calls come from as far away as Mexico, Sweden, France and Norway.
For those in Valdez, the agency starts its day early. Weary-looking men and women start lining up down the block at 5:30 a.m., waiting for the office to open at 7. A stampede through the doors as they opened one day last week pinned two Job Service workers against a wall. A security guard was hired to keep order.
Don Robinson, an unemployed painter, has been here a week, living in his car, showing up each day at the crack of dawn, hoping for a 12-hour-a-day, $16-an-hour Exxon job.
″It’s wait, wait, wait. They don’t tell you anything,″ he said.
The Job Service is providing non-union job applications for one of Exxon’s contractors, VECO.
Wilson said VECO will only look at applications submitted by Alaska residents. She said federal law prohibits release of the number of people hired by VECO or any other employer.
But she said hundreds of people have been hired through the agency since the spill.
Norcon Inc., another oil field service contractor, is hiring union labor for Exxon through Laborers Local 341.
Twice a day, seven days a week, the cramped, smoke-filled hallway outside the tiny union office is jammed with job seekers.
Bill McPheters, business agent for the local, said 40 people a day sign up to join the union. More than 700 have signed up.
The local normally has about 65 members.
The union has sent out more than 500 potential workers since the spill, and about 80 percent went to Norcon, McPheters said.
He said the union has been trying to ensure that Alaskans with at least a year of residency get the jobs.
″We want to put our Alaskans to work. They’ve been through some hard times,″ he said. ″And we have plenty of qualified Alaskans.″