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Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 6: Polluting Politics

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 5: Asthma Club

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 4: Silent Killer

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 3: Chevron en la Comunidad

Exxon locked workers out of their jobs. Can workers lock Exxon out of a carbon capture deal?

By Amal Ahmed and Emily Pontecorvo - Grist, January 31, 2022

A union is warning Texas officials not to give Exxon money for carbon capture until it fixes its labor problems.

In Beaumont, Texas, working at one of Exxon Mobil’s plants has long been a way to earn steady wages and support a family in this industrial corner of the Gulf Coast. “We take care of more than just our immediate family,” said Darrell Kyle, the president of the local United Steelworkers chapter, the union representing workers at the plants. “We’re the uncles and aunts,” he said, who help “the struggling nieces or nephews who need a couple hundred dollars to get by, to pay a bill.” 

But for the past nine months, about 600 union employees at Exxon’s refinery and other plants have been struggling to pay their own bills: They have been locked out of their jobs because Exxon has been unable to come to an agreement with the union over a new contract. Kyle said that the company is refusing to honor protections for senior workers that have been in place for decades, while the union is demanding that those protections remain in place. At the end of last April, without a contract finalized and with the threat of a union strike pending, the company began escorting employees out of the complex, the Beaumont Enterprise, a local newspaper, reported. The company stated that the provisions the union was asking for were “items that would significantly increase costs and limit the company’s ability to safely and efficiently operate.”

Some workers, willing to take the deal Exxon was offering, began a campaign to decertify the union, which would end union representation at the plants. The United Steelworkers union believes that Exxon illegally assisted the campaign and has filed complaints with the National Labor Review Board. 

But in addition to using this legal channel to try to protect their union, the Steelworkers tried a different tactic. They started their own campaign to pressure Exxon into a deal — by undermining the company’s push for public money to build a $100 billion carbon capture hub in nearby Houston.

California Weighs Help for Oil Workers in Green Future

By Anne C Mulkern - Energy Wire, January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 2: At Our Expense

Impact Analysis: California’s Oil and Gas Workers

By Staff - Gender Equity Policy Institute, January 23, 2023

California’s ambitious climate goals, supported by state and federal investment, will create enormous economic opportunity over the coming decades. To meet the 2045 target of carbon neutrality, a 100% clean electric grid, and a 90% reduction in oil consumption and refinery production, the state will need to modernize its electrical grid and build storage capacity to meet increased demand for electricity. Carbon management techniques, plugging orphan wells, and the development of new energy sources such as geothermal will all come into play, providing economic opportunities to workers and businesses alike. Reducing use of polluting fossil fuels will likewise result in significant health benefits to Californians, especially to communities disproportionately burdened by polluting enterprises and proximity to freeways.

Supported by state investment and federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, the actions necessary to tackle the challenges of climate change are projected to create 4 million new jobs in the state. California is investing in developing the clean energy workforce, with an equity commitment to recruit and train historically disadvantaged and under- represented communities.

Decarbonizing the economy and accelerating the adoption of clean energy is necessary if we are to preserve a habitable planet. Progress to a carbon neutral future is already well underway in the state. Wind and solar power are less expensive than natural gas or coal powered electricity. A large majority of Californians are concerned about climate change and support action to address its impacts.

However, as with all sectoral economic change, some industries will grow and thrive, while others will shrink, leaving some of their workers behind. Labor unions and trades groups are rightly concerned that workers are not forced to abandon skills developed over their careers and thrown into an inhospitable labor market with no support.

Thus, a key challenge in meeting California’s climate action goals is to devise a fair, equitable, and empirically-based policy to provide support for workers at risk of unemployment and income loss as many factors combine to reduce demand in state for oil and gas products.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 1: Lay of the Land

Our Oil Jobs Need Good Replacements: For a clean energy future, workers hear promises but not plans

By Norman Rogers - United Steelworkers Local 675, October 23, 2021

Just days after the latest oil spill off the Huntington Beach coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Orange County. In response to renewed calls to ban offshore drilling after about 25,000 gallons of crude oil poured into the Pacific Ocean, the governor commented, “Banning new drilling is not complicated. The deeper question is how do you transition and still protect the workforce?”

I belong to the workforce Newsom speaks of. I’ve worked at a Los Angeles oil refinery for over 22 years as a member of United Steelworkers Local 675. USW represents thousands of workers across Los Angeles, Kern and Contra Costa counties who run refineries, oil wells, pipelines and terminals. Over the last 100-plus years, our workers have shown up and labored without fail through earthquakes, riots, world wars, fires and most recently the pandemic. We supply fuel for plane trips, backup generators for hospitals and materials for syringes that have been crucial as we contain the coronavirus crisis.

Even before the renewed calls to halt drilling, we have felt like our jobs are threatened. When we watch football, we see repeated ads for hybrid and electric cars and now electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning. In California, every new car sold after 2035 is to be an electric vehicle.

The writing is on the wall. As California pursues our goal of cutting emissions 40% by 2030, the resulting closure of the oil and gas industry means about 37,000 fossil fuel workers will need reemployment, while an additional 20,000 workers or so will voluntarily retire in the next nine years.

My father always said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Though the energy transition is inevitable, a just version is not. Workers know what happens when whole industries go away: Companies maneuver behind our backs, squeeze every last drop of work out of a dying auto plant, steel mill or coal mine and shutter it overnight, devastating communities and stiffing workers out of jobs, pensions and healthcare. The fear is real of jobs lost with no plan for when operations begin to phase out.

We’re also concerned for our communities: The loss in tax revenue will cripple county and city budgets, hampering our schools, libraries and other services. The loss of our good-paying jobs will have a serious ripple effect, especially in Kern and Contra Costa counties.

Many speak of a “just transition,” but we’ve never seen one. No worker or community member will ever believe that an equitable transition is possible until we see detailed, fully funded state safety net and job creation programs.

To offer these safety nets, California needs to establish an Equitable Transition Fund for fossil fuel workers covering wage replacement, income and pension guarantees, healthcare benefits, relocation and peer counseling for professional and personal support. It should also provide access to education and training for existing and future jobs that are safe and healthy. California also needs to account for the funding gaps communities face when their tax bases shrink, so schools and libraries can stay open.

Longer term, transitioning the workforce should mean creating stable jobs with good pay and benefits. Right now, we earn well over minimum wage, meaning we can support our families. Many of us can own homes with fossil fuel jobs, and some of us earn six figures. If we start new work, we want to be able to continue supporting our loved ones.

We can create good new jobs for fossil fuel workers and others by investing in California’s climate goals. USW Local 675 was one of 20 unions, including three fossil fuel unions, that endorsed the California Climate Jobs Plan, a study published in June and led by economist Robert Pollin.

With money from California’s budget, federal funds, bonds and new revenue sources, the plan outlines $70 billion of public investments annually in safety net programs as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, infrastructure upgrades and ecological agriculture. 

The goal is to reduce emissions and create 1 million new jobs in California by 2030. This will create opportunities for electricians, carpenters, bus drivers, teachers, engineers, planners and maintenance workers — including workers affected by the pandemic.

The best way to guarantee that these are good jobs and reduce disparity is to make sure they’re union jobs. Data showthat union representation means higher wages, better benefits and working conditions, and a better life for workers and the communities they support.

With a fully funded equitable transition plan — meeting the immediate need for a safety net for workers and communities, and offering a bold vision to restructure our economy — we can jump-start recovery and move California’s workers, communities and the planet toward a more secure future.

Norman Rogers is the second vice president of United Steelworkers Local 675.

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