Marcus Hook picnic has a pitch for buyers of 3 refineries

Dennis Stefano, president of United Steelworkers Local 10-234, was a speakerin Marcus Hook, as were Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Patrick Meehan.
Dennis Stefano, president of United Steelworkers Local 10-234, was a speakerin Marcus Hook, as were Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Patrick Meehan.
Posted: November 06, 2011

The union leaders who organized Saturday's picnic at Marcus Hook's Market Square park billed it mostly as a thank-you to the community for rallying behind 2,000 oil-refinery workers who may find themselves unemployed in less six months.

But there was another, more urgent purpose - to market the community and its workforce to potential buyers for three nearby refineries, all slated to be shut in 2012 if no buyers are found.

"Anyone who's looking to make money, c'mon down and we'll all help," David Miller told the hundreds gathered in the park along the Delaware River. Miller is president of United Steelworkers Local 10-901, the union representing oil workers at Sunoco's Marcus Hook refinery.

"Buy all three and you can be the biggest, baddest dog on the block," he said.

On Sept. 6, Sunoco Inc. put its refineries in South Philadelphia and Marcus Hook up for sale. Both plants, together employing 1,500, continue to operate. Three weeks later, ConocoPhillips said it wanted to sell its Trainer facility and immediately put its 410 employees and 240 contractors to work idling the plant.

"We are all coming together to show the buyers that we can make it work and we can make them money," Marcus Hook Mayor James D. Schiliro said.

Saturday's picnic in the park - with hot dogs, sodas, balloon sculptures, music and games for the kids - began with a parade from the United Steelworkers union hall in Lower Chichester.

Led by half a dozen or so fire trucks, hundreds of union workers paraded through the streets into Marcus Hook, filling two blocks with marchers.

Some carried support posters drawn by local elementary-school students - winning classrooms will have pizza parties, courtesy of the union. Along the way, many homes and businesses sported signs supporting the oil workers.

Lisa Nodis, of Boothwyn, dressed for the occasion in a thermal knit shirt painted with the slogans "Oil Worker's Wife" and "Keep Jobs in the Community."

A stay-at-home mother, she recently began looking for a job. "We would lose our home," she said, worried about what would happen if her husband, Kevin, loses his job at the Philadelphia Sunoco plant.

"This will really affect everyone - the local businesses and the schools," she said. "It's not the union and the workers, it's everyone.

"Everyone thought it was a great outcome," she said. "Now we just have to pray for the jobs - and a buyer."

What all are hoping for is a repeat of the resurrection in Delaware City, Del.

In November 2009, Valero Energy Corp. abruptly shut its refinery there, putting 500 out of work. Seven months later, PBF Holding Co. bought the plant. Last month, company officials, politicians, and unions celebrated its reopening, with 500 employees and 250 contract workers.

United Steelworkers international vice president Gary Beevers was one of the people, along with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell's economic development team, who helped cobble the Valero deal.

Speaking Saturday, Beevers told the group that the turnout sent a powerful message to potential buyers as did the number of Pennsylvania politicians addressing the crowd, among them Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Republican.

As for the union and its workers, "we're willing to do what it takes," Beevers said, "if you can read between the lines."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769,, or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter.

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