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Unions, First Nations seek ‘whistleblower’ protection during Mount Polley dam collapse probes

By Gordon Hoekstra - Vancouver Sun, November 20, 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.

Unions representing government inspectors and engineers and Mount Polley mine workers, supported by First Nations, called on the B.C. government Wednesday to provide “whistleblower” protection to workers who provide information to an expert panel appointed by the government.

The three-member expert engineering panel recently made an unusual call for public submission on the cause of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold and copper mine tailings dam collapse.

The collapse on Aug. 4 at the mine in the Central Interior released millions of cubic metres of water and tailings containing potentially toxic metals. The spill, among the largest in the world in the past 50 years, sparked widespread concerns about the long-term effects on the Quesnel Lake watershed and has put intense scrutiny on tailings dam safety in British Columbia.

“Unless your government provides immediate protection to employees to speak freely about the disaster, there is a real risk that the panel will not obtain all the evidence it needs to do its job properly,” the parties said in a letter to Premier Christy Clark dated Wednesday.

The letter was signed by representatives of the B.C. Government Employees Union, Professional Employees Association, United Steelworkers, Williams Lake Indian Band, the Xatsull First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band) and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre.

'I told them in no uncertain terms to go f**k themselves because what they were doing was blatantly unsafe and illegal'

By Mark Calzavara - Rabble.Ca, November 17, 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.

"I told them in no uncertain terms to go f**k themselves because what they were doing was blatantly unsafe and illegal"

- Excerpt from TransCanada whistleblower Evan Vokes' eye-opening speech at our annual conference in Hamilton. (Watch the video of his speech below.)

TransCanada has had five ruptures over the past year -- far more than any other pipeline company according to National Energy Board statistics.

The five ruptures occurred on both recently-built pipelines and pipelines that are up to 40 years old, which raises serious questions about TransCanada’s ability to safely build and maintain pipelines.

JUSTICE PUSHES WHISTLEBLOWER BOUNTIES AS EPA ABANDONS THEM - Declining EPA Prosecutions Reflect Low Priority for Corporate Pollution vs. Fraud

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, September 24, 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 —As federal prosecutors promote substantial financial rewards for white collar crime whistleblowers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cashiered its modest witness bounty program long ago, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This may help explain the stagnancy of EPA’s anti-pollution criminal enforcement program.

In a September 17, 2014 speech at the New York University Law School, Attorney General Eric Holder advocated increasing the size of whistleblower awards under white collar crime bounty laws, saying it “could significantly improve the Justice Department’s ability to gather evidence of wrongdoing while complex financial crimes are still in progress – making it easier to complete investigations and to stop misconduct before it becomes so widespread that it foments the next crisis.”

By contrast, EPA has no interest in whistleblower bounties. In 1990, Congress authorized EPA to pay “an award, not to exceed $10,000, to any person who furnishes information or services which lead to a criminal conviction or a judicial or administrative civil penalty for any violation” of the Clean Air Act. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from PEER about how this bounty authority had been utilized, the agency conceded that this provision had become a dead letter. EPA could find only one responsive document, a 1996 internal manual provision, because –

“Nearly all the records you requested were destroyed in 2012 because the retention schedule for those records had been met (10 years retention time).”

“The Justice Department now emphasizes the importance of whistleblowers to effective enforcement against corporate criminality while EPA remains clueless,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Corporate pollution violations are just as much a white collar crime as securities fraud.”

Reflecting persistent complaints about shortages of agents, lack of focus and low priority on complex pollution cases from within EPA’s own Criminal Investigation Division (CID), PEER points out that –

  • Criminal cases generated by EPA have been in overall decline over the last decade, with more than half of all its criminal referrals rejected for prosecution. During the first three-quarters of FY 2014, EPA generated only 207 new cases, putting it on track for the lowest number since 1992;
  • Despite policies requiring timely enforcement, EPA allows major wastewater dischargers to violate their permits for years without even a citation; and
  • EPA’s new five-year Strategic Plan deemphasizes traditional enforcement in favor of industry self-reporting of emissions and discharges.

“Agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission actively seek to verify corporate filings but when it comes to the environment EPA has no means for, or apparent interest in, checking whether industry pollution self-reporting is accurate,” added Ruch. “EPA hands out citizen awards for all sorts of volunteerism but not for helping catch polluters.”

Whistleblower Warned Company Tailings Pond Would Fail, Lost Job, then Home

By Damien Gillis - Common Sense Canadian, September 8, 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.

Larry Chambers warned Imperial Metals that its tailings pond was bound to fail – and he was fired for it, the Likely, BC resident told media in Vancouver earlier today.

He and his wife, Lawna Bourassa-Keuster, have now lost their home on once-beautiful Quensnel Lake – too afraid to drink the cloudy and discoloured water, which they brought with them to Vancouver in a jar.

“Christy Clark did come to Likely and at that time, she informed us that she would make sure that Quesnel Lake would be brought back to its pristine state,” said Bourassa-Keuster. “We haven’t seen or heard from her since.”

“We, like most of the residents, live in Likely for its beauty and peacefulness. This is heartbreaking to see.”

The couple didn’t pull any punches when discussing the company’s attitude toward safety during a press conference hosted by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and featuring a Secwepemc First Nation representative as well. After complaining in writing to the Ministry of Energy and Mines about safety conditions at the mine, Chambers says he received a phone call “saying my services were no longer needed there.”

Chambers described instances of being bullied by supervisors at the mine for insisting on safety standards that were not being properly implemented.

It was an ongoing concern about the size of tailing pond and half the employees there knew there was a problem. This just shows you, as soon as you say something, you’re out of there.

Jail Time for Boss Who Ordered Employees to Dump Fracking Waste in Ohio River

By Andrea Germanos - EcoWatch, August 7, 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 owner of a Youngstown, Ohio-based company was sentenced on Tuesday [August 5, 2014] to more than two years in prison for ordering his employees to repeatedly dump toxic fracking waste into a local waterway.

Between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, employees of Hardrock Excavating LLC, which provided services to the oil and gas industry including storing fracking waste, made over 30 discharges of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Sixty-four-year old Benedict W. Lupo, then-owner of Hardrock Excavating, directed his employees to dump the waste, which included benzene and toluene, under the cover of night into the waterway.

According to reporting by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “employees tried to talk Lupo out of it, but he refused. [The judge] also pointed out a prosecutor’s pictures that detailed six weeks of clean-up in an oil-soaked creek.”

Railroad Worker Jen Wallis On Health And Safety, Rail Labor, One Man Crews And Warren Buffet

Video by the Labor Video Project - Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, July 19, 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.

Jen Wallis is a railroad worker and health and safety advocate who was injured and blew the whistle on the Warren Buffet owned railroad BNSF. She is a member of IBT BLET Division 238 and Railroad Workers United RWU who works in the Seattle area.

She discusses her injury and the systemic attack on workers health and safety by the railroad and how this threatens the community and public due to dangerous oil cars and lack of proper manning. This includes systemic retaliation, workplace bullying and intimidation for workers who fight for health and safety on the railroads She also discusses the role of some union officials in pushing 1 man crews even though these labor reductions are serious threats to the safety of the railroad workers and the communities that railroads travel through. This presentation was made in San Francisco on July 19, 2014 at a conference of the Injured Workers National Network.

Additional video:

For more information go to:

Production of Labor Video Project www.laborvideo.org

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.

Rail Workers Raise Doubts About Safety Culture As Oil Trains Roll On

Press Release - Earth Fix, July 2, 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.

SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Curtis Rookaird thinks BNSF Railway fired him because he took the time to test his train’s brakes.

The rail yard in Blaine, Washington, was on heightened security that day, he remembers, because of the 2010 Winter Olympics underway just across border in Vancouver, B.C.

The black, cylindrical tank cars held hazardous materials like propane, butane and carbon monoxide. The plan was to move the train just more than two miles through three public crossings and onto the main track. Rookaird and the other two crew members were convinced the train first needed a test of its air brakes to guard against a derailment.

But that kind of test can take hours. A BNSF trainmaster overheard Rookaird talking over the radio about the testing. He questioned if it was necessary. The crew was already behind schedule that day.

Rookaird stood firm.

“If you don’t have brakes the cars roll away from you,” Rookaird would later say. “You don’t have control of the train, you can crash into things.”

The trainmaster replied by saying he didn’t intend to argue. They’d talk about it later. Then he phoned their boss.

Minutes later, managers had a crew ready to replace Rookaird’s. Within a month, after Rookaird got federal investigators involved, he received a letter from BNSF informing him his employment had been terminated.

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.

Pennsylvania Instructed Its Employees To Ignore Residents Sickened By Drilling

By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, June 20, 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 Pennsylvania Department of Health instructed its employees never to talk to residents who complained of negative health effects from fracking, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported Thursday. Two retired employees of the department detailed restrictions on attending meetings, lists of topics they could not discuss, and a general departmental hostility to the idea of health problems linked to shale gas drilling. The state’s governor, Tom Corbett, declined to comment for StateImpact Pennsylvania’s story.

Pennsylvania has had more than 6,000 hydraulic fracturing wells drilled within the last six years, and zero state studies on their health impacts. In Pennsylvania, and near fracking operations across the country, people have won settlements from fossil fuel companies after being sickened. In many cases the drilling company imposes a gag order to prevent sickened people from spreading the word about what caused their illness and building the case that fracking has negative health effects.

In 2011 Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended a registry to collect health data from people living near fracking operations. Three years later, it still doesn’t exist. Across the country in Colorado, legislators tried to commission a study on the health effects of living near drilling, but fossil fuel advocates ensured its demise. Doctors want more data on health effects of fracking, but the interests of the drillers usually win out.

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