British Petroleum has withdrawn one of its waiver forms after fishermen in Venice, a town bracing for the arrival of an oil slick from the company's leaking rig, complained BP was trying to "pull the wool over our eyes" by asking them to sign away all rights to sue.
The waiver form was distributed Saturday at a Venice public school, where the company was offering a health and safety class for locals whom it says it will hire. Though a spokeswoman said the company does not yet know exactly what positions it's hiring for, it was accepting applications and, with them, the signed waivers.
The form reads: "I hearby agree on behalf of myself and my representatives, to hold harmless and indemnify, and to release, waive, and forever discharge BP Exploration and Production Inc., its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, regular employees and independent contractors …"
When I seen all these people signing these papers, I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me.' It's a freakin' joke. Shrimper Rhonda Moreau
Many interpreted that as a broad forfeiting of liability to the company, even as its oil rolls towards their shores, and refused to sign it.
"This contract is nothing but bull," says shrimper Rhonda Moreau. "They're not even trying to help us. They want us to sign these papers, waiving our rights so they don't have to worry about us. It's not happening."
A lawyer for the Louisiana Shrimp Association was recommending people don't sign the waiver.
"We are not tolerating this. If you're making our fishermen sign something, you better make sure we're okay with is," added Acy Cooper, the association's vice-president.
The company said that while the form was standard, they stopped handing it out.
"We've pulled it" said BP spokeswoman Ayana McIntosh-Lee, who was brought from the company's Houston office to speak with people at the meeting. "We want to hear what people have to say."
The next day, Mr. Cooper confirmed they'd stopped asking people to sign it.
"We're all moving forward. Our disagreements are solved at this time," he said, saying he complained to the company to "let me know about a contract before you do something like this. That's all I'm asking."
It's unclear, however, what happens to those who have already signed it.
"When I seen all these people signing these papers, I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me.' It's a freakin' joke," said Ms. Moreau, wearing a T-shirt marking this year's Super Bowl victory by the New Orleans Saints.
"They're trying to pull the wool over our eyes ... they think we're stupid, and we ain't stupid."
Locals who took the safety class offered by the company say they weren't told how the unspecified work they were said to be applying for would be allotted.
"You've got a better chance of winning the lottery than working here," said fisherman Kevin Drury, 37, shrugging as he flashed his paperwork dismissively.
Many were frustrated by the paperwork and bureaucracy, citing frequently BP's lack of local staff.
"We got a certificate of completion that doesn't even have my name on it. Come on, now," said Bret Ainsworth, 51, a crab fisherman who attended the meeting in yellow rubber fishing boots. "I may get called in for seven, eight bucks an hour... you come over here, you get no answers at all."
BP is also asking for locals who own boats to join the cleanup effort, and says it will pay $1,500 a day for their efforts. But as many of the boats here are fibreglass, and thereby vulnerable to oil damage, few find that a good deal. About 100 are set to start work Monday, Mr. Cooper said, though they will have to sign another type of waiver, clearing liability if boats are damaged.
This form, however, he did not object to.
"We ain't worried about [suing for]oil on our boats. We're commercial fisherman, they're work boats," Mr. Cooper said. "We're worried if someone gets injured, they got no one to turn to."