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Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers

By Joe Uehline - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 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. The IWW is not affiliated with the Labor Network for Sustainability.

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for Support for Oil Strikers The Labor Network for Sustainability today called for environmentalists and other allies of organized labor to support oil refinery workers who went on strike this week.

Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of LNS, said, “Oil refinery workers are in the front line of protecting our communities against the environmental hazards of the oil industry. Their skill and experience is critical for preventing devastating explosions, spills, and releases. The oil companies ar

e creating conditions that make it impossible for refinery workers to protect us. Their strike is about making conditions that are safe and healthy for workers and communities. They deserve the support of environmentalists and everyone concerned about the rights and wellbeing of working people.”

Oil producers have slashed spending because of the falling price of oil. The result has been devastating for workers on the job. According to Steelworkers International Vice-President Gary Beevers, head of the Steelworkers National Oil Bargaining Program, “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire,” Beevers added.

That does not mean that oil companies lack the money to provide safe and decent working conditions. Refiners’ shares on the Standard & Poor’s 500 have more than doubled since the beginning of 2012. According to LNS Executive Director Uehlein, “It is critical that environmentalists support the rights and needs of working people, just as it is essential that workers support the need for a clean, healthy environment. As we work to protect the earth from climate change, it is particularly important that we advocate for the needs of workers in fossil fuel industries whose wellbeing must not be sacrificed to the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Labor Network for Sustainability (www.labor4sustainability.org) is dedicated to engaging trade unionists, workers, and their allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Contact: Joe Uehlein, Labor Network for Sustainability: joeuehlein@mac.com

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

“I’m Very Scared and I’m a Sad Mom”: Commerce City Residents Testify at Suncor Refinery Expansion Hearing

By staff - Unicorn Riot, August 9, 2017

Commerce City, CO – On Wednesday evening, August 2, 2017, over 100 residents of Commerce City, Colorado, filled the Suncor Energy refinery public hearing for Suncor’s request for modifying their permits (PDF) to allow for more emissions. Unicorn Riot livestreamed the hearing (full video embedded below).

According to the ‘Notice of Public Comment Hearing’ (PDF) published on June 20, 2017, on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission website, there was already a “preliminary determination of approval for modifications to the Title V Permit for the Suncor Energy Refinery Plants 1 and 3.”

This public hearing was not initiated by Commerce City’s government, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), nor Suncor, it only happened because the Cross Community Coalition, with and through its counsel Earthjustice, submitted a request for a public comment hearing (PDF) before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

According to the request for the public hearing,

The Suncor Refinery (previously under other ownership) has been found to have repeatedly violated its air pollution permits, and has been subject to numerous enforcement actions as a result.

 

Frequent accidents have raised significant concerns in neighboring communities, with alarming orange clouds of smoke often seen rising above the refinery from miles away.”

Briana Bradley testified against Suncor at the hearing and explained that she had just recently bought her first house with her husband, which happens to be less than a mile from the refinery.

I’m very scared and I’m a sad mom. I started raising my stepson seven years ago, and his mom took off on him, so my husband and I have tried to give him the absolute best life that we can. . . and I just found out that I’m pregnant. . . and now I’m scared to death.”

Bradley went on to say:

So, I get this sheet tonight with 18 ozone alert days, and I have let my son play in the backyard every single one of those days because I didn’t know. . . Also babies born within a 10-mile radius of one of these plants can suffer upper respiratory problems — which we have heard plenty of stories about tonight — rashes, increased hospitalization — which we’ve also heard about tonight — fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, nose bleeds, and heart defects.”

Another mother, Dina Fuente, testified against the permit modifications because her two children already suffer from asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems.

We moved to this area five years ago, and in the last two and a half years, it seems like the clinics and the hospitals have been our second home. My youngest was out of school 17 days last year because of asthma.”

During the hearing, which lasted over two hours, about fifty people testified against Suncor’s request, and two people testified in favor.

Big Oil’s Bi-Partisan Helpers: a Refiner’s Fire 5 Years Later

By Steve Early - Counterpunch, August 4, 2017

Five years ago, my wife and I moved to Richmond, CA and soon learned about the local emergency response protocol known as “shelter in place.”

When large fires break out in Bay Area refineries, like the century old Chevron facility near our house, first a siren sounds. Then public officials direct everyone nearby to take cover inside. Doors must be closed, windows taped shut, if possible, and air conditioning turned off.

August 6th is the fifth anniversary of such self-help efforts in Richmond. On that day in 2012, we looked up and saw an eruption worthy of Mount Vesuvius. Due to pipe corrosion and lax maintenance practices, a Chevron processing unit sprang a leak. The escaping petroleum vapor reached an ignition source. This led to a raging fire that Contra Costa County (home to four refineries) classified as a “Level 3 incident,” posing the highest level of danger.

Nineteen oil workers narrowly escaped death at the scene of the accident. It sent a towering plume of toxic smoke over much of the East Bay and fifteen thousand refinery neighbors in search of medical attention for respiratory complaints, While local property values took a hit, Chevron stayed on track to make $25 billion in profits that year.

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

By Delaying Chemical Safety Rule, Pruitt Endangers First Responders and Refinery Towns

By Daniel Ross - Truthout, May 18, 2017

At 8:48 a.m. on the morning of February 18, 2015, an explosion at the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery in Southern California ripped through the facility with such ferocity, the resulting shockwaves registered on the Richter scale. Dust was scattered over the densely populated neighborhood up to a mile away from the blast. Four workers suffered minor injuries. A hulking 40-ton chunk of debris from the refinery's Electrostatic Precipitator narrowly avoided hitting a tank containing tens of thousands of pounds of highly toxic modified hydrofluoric acid.

The damning findings of a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) review of the accident were made public earlier this month. Among some of the problems identified in the report: the refinery repeatedly violated ExxonMobil's corporate safety standards leading up to the incident, while multiple gaps existed in the refinery's safety systems.

"It was only sheer luck that the hydrofluoric acid tank wasn't hit," said Dr. Sally Hayati, president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. If it had been hit, the collision could have released a toxic ground-hugging cloud with the potential to kill for nine miles and cause serious and irreversible injuries for up to 16 miles under worst-case scenario projections, she added.

"This is yet another symptom of how in our country we always put profit ahead of safety," Hayati said.

Just before Obama exited office, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place a new federal rule setting tougher safety procedures at facilities covered by the EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP). The rule is designed to prevent accidents like the 2015 Torrance refinery explosion from happening again, and to better protect first-responders and the communities perched in the shadow of facilities that store and use potentially dangerous chemicals.

According to EPA data, over 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities between 2004 and 2013, causing more than $2 billion in property damages.

The new rule was supposed to come into effect in March. But after a petition opposing the rule was filed by a coalition of trade associations, the EPA initially stayed its implementation for three months. Then, after various states and companies in the refining, oil and gas, chemical and manufacturing sector filed further petitions, the EPA proposed to extend the stay an additional 20 months -- until February 19, 2019 -- in order to win time to consider these various petitions, and to possibly "revise" the RMP amendments.

Fearing that the EPA under Scott Pruitt will take the side of industry and further delay, weaken or even try to abrogate the new rule entirely, a coalition of community groups, scientists and environmental organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit last month.

"We don't expect Pruitt to defend [the rule]," said Gordon Sommers, associate attorney with Earthjustice, who filed the motion on behalf of the coalition. In a letter to the EPA last year when still Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt asked the agency to withdraw the rule, citing national security concerns.

"We know where he stands and we know that his arguments are the same arguments that the big industries are making," said Sommers. "We know his priority is not protecting these communities."

How We're Surviving Right to Work: Oil Refinery Workers Get People in Motion

By Alexandra Bradbury - Labor Notes, May 16, 2017

The key is collective action, says Steelworkers Local 675 Secretary-Treasurer Dave Campbell. His union represents 4,000 workers in California and Nevada, many of them at oil refineries where workers get a window of opportunity to drop their membership each time the contract comes up for renegotiation. In each refinery of 300-600 workers, the union maintains around 90 percent membership.

That's because members have the habit of acting for themselves as a union on the shop floor. Union leaders encourage members to bolster a grievance with workplace action. For instance, a supervisor had forbidden people to wear baseball caps, sunglasses, or Hawaiian shirts in the control room. Workers collected signatures on a petition and presented it to the other supervisor, who crumpled it up and threw it away.

“We organized all four crews to show up for work with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps,” Campbell says, “and the union bought the roast pig for a Hawaiian luau lunch. When the superintendent saw all the workers united, he of course asked what the hell was going on—and the supervisor who had caused all this was reassigned.”

Besides being fun and effective, these activities give workers the chance to learn by doing. “In essence they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.”

State Weighs in For Caps on Bay Area Refinery Toxic and Climate Pollution

By Andrés Soto and Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment; Ratha Lai, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Luis Amuezca, Sierra Club Bay Chapter - April 16, 2017 [Press Release]

Reversing regional of ficials who sided with refiners to claim pollution trading policies force them to allow increasing refinery pollution, the State Air Resources Board supports pollution limits to “cap” increasing particulate and greenhouse gas air pollution from five Bay Ar ea refineries in a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District sent late yesterday.

Oil companies seek to process lower quality grades of oil that could increase refinery emission intensity and refinery mass emissions.  Caps on emission intensi ty and mass work together to protect against those health and climate threats.  The State’s letter supports both protections, finding they work together with its state climate program. That finding contradicts the refiners’ argument that Air District Rule 12 - 16, which sets mass caps, conflicts with the State’s cap - and - trade pollution trading scheme.  Air District staff joined the refiners to make this claim against its own proposal in workshops last week.

Oil Refineries Don’t Just Pollute; They Also Kill Workers

By Jim Morris - Center for Public Integrity, December 13, 2016

ANACORTES, Washington—From 500 yards away, John Moore felt the concussion before he heard it.

Geelong refinery workers just scored a huge win for safety

By Rosie Jones - Green Left Weekly, October 12, 2016

The Geelong refinery dispute may not hold the record for the longest campaign for workers’ rights, but the dispute over safety nevertheless won due to a concerted campaign.

On October 5, almost 300 workers voted to walk out of the refinery, owned by Viva Energy Australia, over safety concerns. They began a 24-hour picket, covering four access gates to the refinery. The initial walk out was facilitated by the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

The next afternoon, a notice was put up on all four gates, literally nailed to the trees along refinery road, saying the AWU and the AMWU had received an injunction order from the Supreme Court to refrain from any further participation in the action — not just on the site but anywhere. In response, concerned community members set up a small camp at the main gate to support the workers.

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