Union refinery workers to rally behind health and safety issues

19 January 2012 21:46  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Union workers in the refining industry will rally outside of Chevron’s headquarters to protest what they call the industry's unacceptable safety record, the United Steelworkers (USW) said on Thursday.

“Over the past three years we’ve seen 18 refinery workers die on the job,” said the secretary-treasurer of USW Local 5 Jeff Clark.

The protest will take place on Friday, and the crowd will include members and supporters of USW Local 5. Local 5 will conduct its local negotiations with officials of Chevron's 245,271 bbl/day Richmond refinery in California.

Overall, USW represents more than 30,000 workers in the refining industry, and local union groups will be staging events at the headquarters of oil companies across the country in the coming weeks, Clark said.

The protests will come as bargaining begins for the national union contract. The current contract expires on 1 February. USW International Vice President Gary Beevers and District 13 Assistant Director Jim Lefton began bargaining this week with the oil companies.

Health and safety issues are a key bargaining issue for the National Oil Bargaining policy of refinery workers being presented to the oil companies.

From 1 February 2009 through 10 November 2011, USW has counted 138 plant fires. In the state of Louisiana, there were 354 plant accidents in 2010, according to the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a state environmental health organisation.

“The industry can’t continue down this path,” Beevers said.

USW said refusal to address health and safety demands in the 2012 bargaining could lead to a strike.

“When we go to the bargaining table with the industry we’re going to have real changes on health and safety language or we’re not going to work,” Beevers said.

Much of the health and safety demands in the 2009 bargaining were not addressed because poor economic conditions dominated the conversation.

Chevron spokesman Gustavo Santoyo said the company is open to all dialogue with the appropriate union level representative to discuss safety and act on improvement.

"Protecting people and the environment is a core value at Chevron," Santoyo said. "We place the highest priority on the health and safety of our workforce, our neighbours and the protection of the environment."

By: Sheena Martin
+1 713 525 2653

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