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BP Employees: Don’t Trust Our Company

Sarah Berlin

BP, notorious for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has now come under fire for a new injustice: failing to pay employees consistent pensions. As BP has acquired other companies over the years, employees say, it has actively worked against paying long-term workers the pension plans they were promised. In 1987, BP bought Standard of Oil of Ohio (Sohio). According to a new report by Truthout, executives promised Sohio employees in writing that their new pension plan would have at least the same value as their existing plan. Two years later, however, BP replaced Sohio employees' pension plan with a cash balance one, which reduced the average value of Sohio staff's retirement by more than half. Then, in 2011, BP enhanced the pension plans of employees from other companies it had acquired—but not those from Sohio. This disparity in retirement compensation distracts workers with lower pension plans and forces them to make difficult financial and health decisions, sometimes endangering themselves or their work in the process. As Truthout explains: [Employee Fritz] Guenther said that because of this issue, the average Sohio employee is now going to have to work 10 to 12 years longer to receive a retirement pension that is equivalent to BP's non-Sohio employees. "While we're working, we're seeing guys walking out the door with full retirement when we have to work longer," Guenther said. "This is causing us to have to make life-changing decisions, like how long am I going to work, and it's terribly distracting, and when you're in the oil and gas industry, that's not a good thing."   … "The biggest thing this has done is impacted my on-the-job safety; it is hard to focus on what's important when you see your coworkers of other heritage companies retiring with a smile on their faces and well wishes, in most cases coworkers with less years of service with BP and often even younger.  "Being distracted in the oil business can be devastating," he continued. "No one knows this better than BP, whether on a corporate or personal level. Anything related to on-the-job safety has an impact on my family and my ability to provide for them." BP's ombudsman claimed that the pensions only differed by 15 to 20 percent, leading employees to question whether the company was providing the ombudsman with accurate numbers. Other employees allege that BP's Human Resources Department retaliated against them when they tried to push the issue further.    The BP employees feel that the company's untrustworthy behavior does not bode well for the 2010 oil spill victims who are filing claims against BP for damages. "It would not surprise me that BP is not compensating folks in the Gulf," Guenther told Truthout. "When I saw them backing off of their promises in the Gulf, I said, "Yep, welcome to my world!"

Sarah Berlin is an intern at In These Times.
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