Union workers at a multibillion-dollar Pennsylvania construction site did not have to stick around to hear President Donald Trump speak last Tuesday. But if they opted out, they were forced to take the day off — and lose some pay.
Trump was on hand at the Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical plant in Beaver County where he addressed a large group of workers in a speech that, while billed as being energy-focused, also railed against opponents such as former President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and lamented what he described as the “millions” the presidency was costing him.
Prior to Trump’s visit, employees were told that, in effect, attendance at his speech was not mandatory, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But there would be a cost: Workers would not be paid their overtime rate unless they scanned in their IDs at 7 a.m. and stood through lunch.
Shell spokesman Ray Fisher told PEOPLE in a statement that the day was “treated as a training (work) day with a guest speaker who happened to be the President.”
“It was understood some would choose not to attend the Presidential visit and were given the option to take personal time off (PTO) instead,” Fisher said. “As with any workweek, if someone chooses to take PTO, they are not eligible to receive the maximum overtime available.”
According to the Post-Gazette, workers at the plant were scheduled for 56 hours weekly, with 16 hours of overtime — overtime that would be unavailable unless they attended the president’s speech.
More than a dozen unions employing thousands of people work on the site, the paper reports.
According to the Post-Gazette, Fisher noted that Trump was not the first speaker there: “Popular sports figures like Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris have visited the site to engage with workers and to share inspirational messages.”
The Post-Gazette reported that while “Trump received a generally warm and at times cheerful welcome,” some workers had been told that yelling, shouting, protesting or “anything viewed as resistance” would not be tolerated.
“An underlying theme of the event is to promote good will from the unions,” read key points conveyed to some workers at the site, according to the paper. “Your building traders leaders and jobs stewards have agreed to this.”
Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters local 449, told the Post-Gazette that the speaking event and subsequent policies were “what Shell wanted to do and we went along with it.”
“We’re glad to have the jobs. We’re glad to have the project built,” he said. “The president is the president whether we like him or dislike him. We respect him for the title.”
Two workers told NBC News they had to miss their lunch break to attend Trump’s speech and had brought snacks along in their pocket because they were not permitted to bring in food.
The $6 billion plant, on which construction started in November 2017, is set to become a facility that will convert natural gas into plastic for various products, according to the New York Times.
Instead of focusing on the facility’s purpose, Trump’s speech occasionally sounded more like a campaign rally.
“I’m going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, ‘I hope you’re going to support Trump,’ okay?” he told the crowd, according to the Post-Gazette. “And if they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job.”
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Trump also said that being president was costing him “a fortune” of between $3 and $5 billion.
“I couldn’t care less, I don’t care. You know if you’re wealthy, it doesn’t matter,” he said, according to NBC News. “I just want to do a great job.”
The commander-in-chief also criticized the multimillion dollar book advance Obama received in 2017 and again denigrated Warren, who is seeking to challenge him for the presidency next year.