Workers for Philadelphia Energy Solutions arrived at the refinery on Wednesday, anxious about news reports that the fire-damaged facility was going to close suddenly and permanently.
Even after the mayor confirmed the closure around 10 a.m., refinery management was silent. Workers were in the dark.
And then some nonunion employees noticed that their unused vacation days were disappearing from the company’s timekeeping system, as though an unseen hacker was silently draining off their hours.
A short while later, about 100 nonunion employees were summoned to meetings held simultaneously at PES headquarters in Center City and at the two refineries that make up the South Philadelphia oil-processing facility, the largest refining complex on the East Coast.
The managers confirmed that the refinery would shut down in short order. Some employees would remain to wind down operations. But the employees summoned to the meeting were let go immediately, effectively Monday.
There would be no severance pay. Unused vacation time would be paid — the company was already preparing checks, thus the disappearing vacation hours.
Somebody asked about the state law requiring a 60-day termination notice, but the executives said that because of the devastating fire and explosion on June 21, the law did not apply to an emergency closure. They said they had already run it by legal.
“It was kind of hard to believe that this was how they were doing it, less than a week after the accident,” said one worker.
More than 1,000 PES workers were given notice Wednesday, shutting down a workplace where fuels have been produced for more than 150 years. The workers said it seemed like they were the last to be told.
“There was a sense that there was financial trouble, but not this bad,” said one.
At midday on Wednesday, Ryan O’Callaghan, president of Steelworkers Union Local 10-1, which represents 614 refinery workers, met with PES human resources officials and was notified of the pending closure. Union workers would remain on the payroll until July 12 to complete the shutdown.
“Unfortunately, it was not feasible for PES to provide earlier notice because the business circumstances that followed the fire and explosion were not reasonably foreseeable," William Goodhart, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a letter to the union.
The union will begin bargaining over the terms of the layoffs, O’Callaghan said. “Severance, vacation, it’s all on the table,” he said.
PES said it is putting the property up for sale, but it is far from clear if a buyer will emerge, and if the refinery will restart or some other business will replace it.
Staff writer Juliana Feliciano Reyes contributed to this article.