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Steelworkers protest racism and lack of adequate safety at the Shell refinery in Martinez, California

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 25, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Inside sources tell us that rank and file members of United Steelworkers Union Local 5 in Martinez, California are none too happy with management of the local Shell refinery bosses.

Their main beef is that the company refuses to hire full time firefighters to staff the facility, and instead choose to rely on part timers. Given these refineries' tendency to--well--explode, especially in light of the fact that they're processing heavier and dirtier tar sands crude through increasingly corroded and poorly maintained pipes (due to maintenance budget restrictions in spite of the workers' warning against that), this isn't shocking. In fact, what's shocking is that more people don't know about this.

These same workers attended the recent (January 21, 2015) Martinez City Council meeting to complain about unaddressed instances of sexism and racial slurs (including a hangman's noose and graffiti of a Nazi swastika found at the facility) by the company.

The union conducted a brief informational picket in nearby Pacheco on January 22 to raise awareness about their grievances. Stay tuned for updates.

Reportedly, members of USW Local 5 will also join in a community rally in front of city hall (400 Civic Center on McDonald), in Richmond, California at 5 PM, Wednesday, January 28, 2015. At 6 PM, the US Chemical Safety Board will issue its final determination on the August 6, 2012 toxic fire and explosion at the Chevron Richmond Refinery.

Rail Workers and Environmentalists to Teach Each Other

By Ron Kaminkow - Labor Notes, January 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. Several IWW branches have, however, endorsed this effort.

With public attention focused on the railroads in a way it hasn’t been for decades, the cross-craft solidarity group Railroad Workers United is seizing the opportunity to teach the general public “railroading 101”—and teach rail workers “environmental politics 101.”

Both those workshops, among others, will be offered at one-day conferences on “The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community, and Environment,” March 14 in Richmond, California, and March 21 in Olympia, Washington. (See below for details.)

“My excitement about the conference is having railroaders, who on a daily basis are moving these really dangerous, volatile, flammable materials, having a dialogue with communities who want it to be made safe,” says activist Gifford Hartman.

“To my knowledge it’s never been done,” says Seattle switchman-conductor Jen Wallis. “Rail labor hasn’t worked with environmentalists to the degree that steelworkers and longshoremen and Teamsters have. It’s all very new.”

RWU is partnering with the Backbone Campaign and other groups to organize both events. The idea is to bring together rank-and-filers, environmentalists, and the general public.

Just as important as learning each other’s issues, Wallis says, is that “we get to know each other… So we have people we can call on when we have an issue on the table, and they can do the same with us.”

Where do we go from here?

By Colin Miller - Speech given at the People's Climate Rally in Oakland, California, September 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Colin Miller is Coordinator, Clean Energy & Jobs Oakland Campaign of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition and Program Manager of Bay Localize, a local organization struggling in the case of climate justice.

Why are we here today? Why are over 100,000 people marching in New York, in the greatest climate march in human history? Why are millions of people, marching, rallying and demonstrating in over 200 actions around the world today?

On Tuesday, the United Nations will come together for a one-day summit on climate change, and we are demanding climate justice.

Regardless of how the UN responds to our demands, we are here in solidarity with struggles from the local to the global, recognizing our interconnectedness.

From Frisco to Ferguson, from the fence lines of the Chevron refineries in Richmond, to the front lines of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, we are here for justice and we are here for peace.

We are here because we love our children, as we love our Mother Earth, and all of her creatures, all our relations, from the smallest insect, to the greatest of towering Sequoia redwood trees. We are here because we are not going to allow all that we love to be destroyed in the name of profit - not without a fight.

We are here for the fight of our lives, and in a fight for our very lives - for the lives of our children, and for our children's children's children - for the next seven generations.

We are facing the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced - literally threatening our own extinction. In fact, the ecological and climate crisis is the greatest social justice struggle of our time, and it touches every facet of our lives.

This moment in history requires unprecedented courage.

First, we must have the courage to see honestly and clearly, the situation we are in today.
Second, we must have the courage to speak truth to power, and to envision the world that we want to live in and that we want to leave for future generations.

Finally, we must have the courage to ACT - to heed the call of the Climate Justice Alliance's Our Power Campaign, by walking the path of a Just Transition together: away from an extractive economy based on fossil fuels, and towards local, living, loving economies.

Chevron Sounds Alarm Against East Bay “Anarchism”

By Steve Early - CounterPunch, September 16, 2014
Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood - Waging Nonviolence, August 10, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

One of the great things about living near Chevron’s big East Bay refinery—yes, the one that caught fire and exploded two years ago—is its system of early warnings about new disasters about to befall Richmond, CA.

In our post-Citizens United era, the nation’s second largest oil producer is now free to spend $1.6 million (or more, if necessary) on direct mail and phone alerts, designed to keep 30,000 likely voters fully informed about threats to their city.

During the last week, glossy mailers from a Chevron-funded group called “Moving Forward” have been flowing our way, at the rate of one or two per day—almost seven weeks before Election Day.

And, then, just to make sure that Chevron’s urgent message is getting through, we’ve also been called by pollsters. They claim to be surveying  opinion about Richmond politics, but actually just recite the contents of these same Moving Forward mailers over the phone.

My favorite manifestation of this negative campaigning involves a Latino candidate for Richmond City council. His name is Eduardo Martinez and remembering the Eduardo part is important. By some strange coincidence, Moving Forward—the Chevron-backed “Coalition of Labor Unions, Small Businesses, Public Safety and Firefighters Associations”—is backing another Martinez for city council whose first name is Al and who is apparently not a public safety threat.

Chevron Richmond Refinery August 6, 2014 Pipe Rupture and Fire [REPORT NO. 2012-03-I-CA OCTOBER 2014]

By staff - U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, October 2014

An August 6, 2012, release of flammable vapor led to a fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. The CSB released three investigation reports into this incident.

This report is particularly sigificant in that it reveals that the refinery workers repeatedly tried to warn the managers and employers of the deteriorating conditions of the refinery's infrastructure (which led to the fire), but were ignored. Knowing this, climate justice activists and organizers can develope relationships with workers in capitalist extractive industries and do the painstaking, tedious work of cultivating relationships and building trust to build a united front against the capitalist class.

Read the report (English PDF).

San Francisco Bay Area Oil Infrastructure

The following pamphlet, compiled by Gifford Hartman (Fall 2014) offers a brief, and concise description of the five oil refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area, located northeast of San Francisco. [PDF File]

Why I Chained Myself to the Gate of the Kinder Morgan Oil by Rail Facility

By Ethan Buckner - Forest Ethics, September 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“This would not be something that would be a significant concern to us,” responded Jim Karas, a senior officer at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), when asked by a CBS reporter why his agency issued an under-the-table permit allowing   oil trains to roll into a Kinder Morgan railyard in Richmond, CA. . The Kinder Morgan facility receives volatile, dangerous Bakken crude oil on 100-car long trains, offloads that oil onto tanker trucks, and ships the oil to local refineries. Neither BAAQMD nor Kinder Morgan notified any stakeholders or community groups, including the BAAQMD’s board of elected officials - of the permit.

Exploding oil trains are certainly of concern to residents living in Atchison Village, Richmond, CA, a beautiful community just across the street from Kinder Morgan railyard, which did not receive notice about the permit. Teachers and parents at Peres Elementary School, where oil trains now careen next to the playground, weren’t told. And even local organizations like our allies at Communities for a Better Environment and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, were not notified. When a local news station revealed the secret permit, a coalition of community and environmental groups promptly sued the BAAQMD and Kinder Morgan.  The lawsuit was   dismissed by the San Francisco Superior Court Friday, September 5, for being filed too late.

BAAQMD is a public agency thats mission is “to protect and improve public health, air quality, and the global climate” in 9 San Francisco Bay Area counties. The agency’s board has taken extraordinary steps toward following through on its mission, including passing a bold Climate Action Plan that calls for 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But BAAQMD’s senior staff seem to have different interests in mind.

By granting the under-the-table permit to Kinder Morgan, BAAQMD’s senior staff is protecting big oil instead of our communities.

What does environmental justice have to do with tenant organizing?

By John Tieu - Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, August 21, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Our Power National Convening kicked off on August 6th, 2014 in Richmond CA, a diverse city that houses the Chevron Richmond refinery. This refinery is also one of the larger greenhouse gas emitting factories in the nation. The city itself is an example of what happens when capitalism’s method of exploiting the working class, extracting their profit, and commodifying our environment reaches a peak. An alarming number of people in Richmond have suffered, and are currently suffering from breathing issues such as asthma due to the city’s harmful air. Crime has been consistently high, and disinvestment in the city is affecting urban space. The refinery itself, which provides jobs to a sizeable amount of the population in Richmond, is also a highly unstable and dangerous work environment.

At a community vigil on August 6th, participants of the convening learned about and paid tribute to the victims of an explosion that happened at the refinery two years ago in 2012, sending 15,000 to seek treatment.

The city’s population itself is constantly being reminded of their struggles with bombardments of smoke plumes and advertisements from Chevron citing modernization and expansion as positive changes. I’ve never seen or experienced any neighborhood like it on the east coast. A resident in the city of Richmond seems to have almost every aspect of their life permeated by the Chevron corporation, as it seems to always and constantly be in the collective conscience of the neighborhood. As an intern who did not have any background in environmental studies, did not focus on issues in my own neighborhood that dealt with clean air and energy issues, and did not ever have to live in the shadow of a massive refinery, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I became involved with CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities this past summer, and had dealt with multiple issues ranging from organizing tenants in Chinatown, to doorknocking in NYCHA owned complexes, to putting on a screening of Delano Manongs, a film about the Filipino Farm Workers movement. While all somewhat varied in its subject, the projects had no readily apparent connections to the themes of the convening, which were mostly based on environmental and climate justice. Throughout the event I struggled to understand my place, as well as CAAAV’s place in the fight for a just transition into a new economic system, when there hasn’t been a direct connection of organization’s work focused on these issues. It had taken the majority of the conference to understand why Grassroots Global Justice would want to send Jeff (a fellow member) and I here to Richmond…

U.S. INDUSTRIAL SAFETY LAGS ALARMINGLY BEHIND DEVELOPED WORLD: U.S. Industrial Loss Burden 3 Times European Union and Gap Is Growing

Press Release - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), July 9, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — America’s industrial infrastructure is substantially more susceptible to catastrophic failure than those in other industrialized countries, according to reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain key sectors, such as petrochemicals, aging U.S. refineries are become more dangerous with each passing month.

The combined losses from the fires, explosions and spills regularly plaguing U.S. chemical plants takes a proportionately greater toll than in the rest of the world. For example, the reinsurance giant, Swiss Re, concludes that the sum of all reinsurance losses (the “loss burden”) in refining, petrochemical processing and gas processing industry in the U.S. is approximately three times that of the comparably sized sector in the European Union (EU), with the rest of the world similar to the EU cluster.

Beyond economic losses, the toll on American workers is also higher. A study entitled “Occupational Fatality Risks in the United States and the United Kingdom” published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found the fatality rate of U.S. workers approximately three times that of workers in the U.K. American worker deaths from chemical exposure were more than 10 times higher than their U.K. counterparts; death by fire nearly 5 times and by explosion nearly 4 times as likely.

Rather than improving, some key U.S. industrial sectors are declining.

Why U.S. is Not Embracing Inherently Safer Chemical Plants: Chevron Richmond Refinery Explosion Ignored in GOP Red Herring Oversight

Contact: Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Jun 25, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — Republican lawmakers are using phony whistleblower claims to serve a corporate agenda of blocking critical steps to prevent future chemical plant explosions, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Nearly two years after a massive oil refinery fire sickened 15,000 California residents, the official federal safety report urging adoption of inherently safer technologies still languishes due to both internal and external opposition.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents in fixed facilities. It does not issue fines or citations, but makes recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies, industry organizations and labor. In a House hearing last week, Government Reform & Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa released an 84-page staff report making no mention of a critical February 10, 2014 memo from CSB investigative staff defending their Chair Rafael Moure-Eraso and decrying delay of their report on the Chevron refinery.

In August 2012, Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California sprung a leak in a steel pipeline which gasified into a plume and then ignited, eventually creating a chemical cloud that forced 15,000 residents in the San Francisco Bay Area to seek medical care. The leak in the steel piping was caused by sulfidation corrosion, in which the sulfur in the petroleum eats away at the steel. There had been a similar leak at the Chevron refinery just the week prior. Chevron had four such leaks in its other refineries that year.

After reviewing the Chevron Richmond disaster, CSB issued a draft staff report calling for a preventive rather than reactive approach to chemical plant disasters. The draft report urged adoption of inherently safer design and also urged putting the onus on facility operators to choose materials and technologies that prevent foreseeable flaws. This approach is used in the U.K., Australia and Norway but not in the U.S.

Yet when the CSB convened this January, two members of the board opposed the Chair’s attempt to adopt the draft report urging inherently safer design. As a result, the Chevron report remains in limbo.

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