Sit-In Postponed

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Sit-In Postponed

MIAMI -- Nine independent Amoco operators, who picketed BP's South Florida headquarters earlier this week, have postponed tomorrow's planned sit-in at the West Palm Beach Amoco convenience store owned by John Griveas on the advice of his lawyers, CSNews Online has learned.

Griveas is one of nine independent Amoco operators to have their convenience store leases terminated by London-based BP plc, which acquired Amoco in 1998. The group contends that after making the Amoco stores financially successful, BP is reneging on deals to extend the leases so the oil company can run the businesses itself.

Griveas' contract with BP formally ends tomorrow, though he has already paid rent to the oil company that would take him through September, said Michelle Rosen, a spokeswoman for the group.

"We don't anticipate the courts doing anything on Saturday, so [Griveas] was advised he should run his business as normal until BP comes banging on the door," Rosen told CSNews Online. "That will be the right time to stage a sit-in."

The dealers claim they had verbally agreed to two four-year extensions once their current leases expired. Instead, they say, they received letters from the company in February informing them that the leases wouldn't be renewed and that they would have to turn over the keys at the end of the leases. The leases for eight of the nine stations -- located in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties -- expire over the next few weeks. The other lease, with Jose Fernandez in Miami-Dade, expired Aug. 12. A federal judge denied Fernandez's request to continue to run the business until the matter was litigated. That station is now operated by BP.

The dealers filed a suit seeking an injunction against BP that would prohibit them from canceling the contracts. A ruling isn't expected for several weeks.

Regardless of whether BP comes knocking, additional sit-ins are being planned for next week, Rosen said. "Other contracts are expiring and we have to get the word out," she said. "Our goal is to get BP to listen to us and understand the impact their decision is having on these operators and their families."

A BP Spokesman declined to comment on the case. "We don't comment on matters that are under litigation," BP spokesman Richard Judy said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "The one thing we are comfortable saying is that we are absolutely confident that we have not only handled the contracts with them legally, but we have handled them fairly."

More than 40 people marched in protest at BP's South Florida Wednesday to vent their anger over the loss of their convenience store leases. While chanting "BP is unfair to me" and "Amoco don't make us go," the dealers carried signs reading "BP Amoco is forcing us to run on empty" and "BP Amoco filled up -- then took us for a ride." They were joined in their crusade by Jack Merkl, a former Exxon Mobil Corp. executive who is campaigning for a seat in U.S. Congress.

"We want the public, basically, to know what is happening to us," said Dimitrios Koutsodendris, whose lease on a Miami store expires later this month. "After putting in the time, money and effort, they want all of this back and they don't give us anything."

ABOVE: Flanked by U.S. Congressional candidate Jack Merkl (left), John Griveas leads a protest against BP.