What is Bechtel doing?
Bechtel Group Inc.
50 Beale Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
revenues: $17.4 billion (2004)
employees: approx. 40,000
Chairman and CEO: Riley Bechtel
This family-controlled construction and engineering giant dates back to 1898, when 25-year-old Warren Bechtel left his farm in Kansas to work on the grading of railroad lines. He settled in Oakland, California, and built what within about two decades became the largest construction company in the West. The firm worked on major infrastructure projects such as the Hoover Dam (as part of a consortium) and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. After the Second World War, Bechtel expanded abroad with projects such as the construction of the 11,000-mile Trans-Arabian Pipeline. At home it built the first electricity-generating nuclear power plant and later the subway systems of the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, DC. Beginning in 1976 it led the massive Jubail Project on Saudi Arabia's Gulf coast, which involved the creation of an entire city.
During the 1970s, the company was involved in a series of controversies, including major errors in the construction of a nuclear power plant and charges that the company participated in the Arab boycott of Israel. There were later accusations that Bechtel bribed officials in South Korea to obtain nuclear power plant construction contracts.6
The company, nonetheless, maintained close ties to the federal government. In fact, some of its top executives have passed through the revolving door into positions of power. Ronald Reagan chose as his Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had been working at Bechtel after a prior career in the public sector. Later, Bechtel president George Schulz became Reagan's Secretary of State after the resignation of Alexander Haig. The company also supplied a Deputy Secretary of Energy, W. Kenneth Davis. At least two former CIA directors worked as executives or consultants to the company.
Bechtel made large cuts in its workforce during the slump of the 1980s, but the company bounced back in the 1990s. It was the first U.S. firm to win a construction license to work in China, and it was part of the consortium contracted in 1996 to build a high-speed passenger rail line between London and the Chunnel. Bechtel later was chosen to work on a 30-year modernization of London's subway system. In 2000 residents of Cochabamba, Bolivia staged a revolt against a privatized water system managed by a Bechtel subsidiary, forcing the Bolivian government to cancel the contract (for which the company has sought compensation).
Bechtel has been the co-manager of the Big Dig construction project in downtown Boston that has been plagued by cost overruns and quality problems. In 2003 Bechtel received the first large contract for postwar reconstruction work in Iraq. A June 2003 report by Global Exchange, CorpWatch and 6. Mark Dowie et al., "Bechtel: A Tale of Corruption," Multinational Monitor, May 1984.
Public Citizen described Bechtel's "legacy of unsustainable and destructive practices that have reaped permanent human, environmental and community devastation around the globe.
Bechtel has been cited a number of times for deficiencies in connection with its major projects for the U.S. Department of Energy:
In May 2000 the Department of Energy fined the company $82,500 for violations of nuclear safety regulations associated with the unplanned exposure of workers at Bechtel's operation at the Hanford plutonium plant in Washington State.
In June 2002 the Department of Energy fined the company $41,250 for nuclear safety violations at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL).
In November 2003 the Department of Energy fined the company $192,500 for nuclear safety violations at the Oak Ridge and Paducah facilities.
In January 2004 the Department of Energy fined the company $41,250 for nuclear safety violations at INEEL.
In August 2005 the Department of Energy fined the company $247,500 for nuclear safety violations at the Oak Ridge facility.
In September 2005 The Energy Department's Office of Inspector General issued a report finding that the Department paid a Bechtel subsidiary about $4 million in performance bonuses for work that failed to meet DOE's specifications and deadlines.
In 2003 a Bechtel subsidiary was fined $10,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for "importation of uncertified nonroad engine."
Workplace safety and health record According to OSHA records, since the beginning of 1996 inspections at workplaces operated by Bechtel and its main subsidiaries resulted initially in 18 serious violations with a combined total of $76,699 in fines. Many of these were challenged. After formal and informal settlement, there were 11 serious violations remaining with a combined total of $136,128 in fines.
Bechtel: Profiting from Destruction, June 2003; available at http://www.citizen.org/publications/release.cfm?ID=7249
See the Department of Energy notice at http://www.eh.doe.gov/enforce/eas/ea200006R01.pdf
See the Department of Energy notice at http://www.eh.doe.gov/enforce/eas/EA-2002-02ws.pdf
See the Department of Energy notice at http://www.eh.doe.gov/enforce/eas/EA-2003-09WS.pdf
See the Department of Energy notice at http://www.eh.doe.gov/enforce/eas/EA-2004-01WS.pdf
See the Department of Energy notice at http://www.eh.doe.gov/enforce/eas/EA-2005-04.pdf
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, Audit Report: Use of Performance Based Incentives by the
Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, DOE/IG-0702, September 2005; available online at
Wage and hour compliance record
A database of federal wage & hour violations since January 2000 showed one listing for Bechtel, in which it paid $2,552 for failing to pay proper overtime to workers in Las Vegas.
Back in 1979 Bechtel paid $1.4 million to settle two sex discrimination lawsuits brought by female employees who charged the company with bias in job assignments and promotion. In 1997 a state court jury in San Francisco awarded $1.3 million to a former employee who charged that his termination had been the result of age discrimination.
Bechtel was one of the targets of a series of lawsuits charging racial discrimination brought by African-American workers in the late 1990s against the operators of the federal government's Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina. A federal judge denied class-action status to the suits, which reached about 100. Most of the cases were settled out of court.
In December 2004 Bechtel and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled a complaint that had been brought against the company in connection with discriminatory treatment experienced by
an employee of Iraqi origin after the 9/11 attacks.
Labor relations record
Bechtel generally operates as a union contractor, though it tends to use non-union subcontractors. A database of unfair labor practice charges filed since the beginning of 1994 has about 60 entries for cases brought against Bechtel and its main subsidiaries.
Federal campaign contributions to parties and candidates since 2000
Soft money and 527s ....................................................520,000 ......................406,000
Political action committee ............................................345,000 ......................220,000
Individual contributions by top officer .....................................9,000 .................................0
"Sex Bias: $1.4 Million," Business Week, August 6, 1979.
"SF Jury Awards $1.3 Million Verdict in Age Discrimination Case," California Employment Law Monitor, April 28, 1997.
EEOC v. Bechtel Corp, No. 03-CV-4616 (D.N.J. December 8, 2004); see summary at