To give voice to 35 workers killed on the job over the past 35 years at a massive refinery in Texas City, hundreds of surviving family members, co-workers and friends gathered there last month to erect white crosses marked with their names.
Marathon Petroleum Corp., which bought the refinery from BP two years ago, did its best to shut the mourners up. Marathon uprooted the crosses and tossed them in a box like trash within hours of the commemoration.
For years during contract negotiations, the United Steelworkers (USW) union has pressed ungodly profitable oil companies to improve safety. This fell mostly on deaf ears. On Feb. 1, USW refinery workers began loudly voicing this demand by striking over unfair labor practices (ULP). Ultimately 7,000 struck 15 refineries. Within six weeks, all but five oil corporations settled. Marathon is a hold out. It wants to cut safety personnel. It does not want to hear about dead workers.
Watching the discussion around the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) gives me a nasty sense of déjà vu.
Long before joining AFGE, I worked as a food service worker, licensed practical nurse, and registered nurse in my hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina. In those days, Kannapolis was just another Southern mill town full of honest, working class people just trying to get by. Working at the textile mill was hard, but it was honest work that supported hundreds of families, and that was enough for generations of us to buy homes and support our families. That was, until the cheap imports started arriving from overseas.
It didn't take long for things to unravel after that. The vacancies came first, then the pink slips, then delinquency notices, then the foreclosure notices. Men and women who had been working in the mills their whole lives – my family members included – were now out of work, and whole communities were left without a means to put food on the table.
A longtime Washington PR flack for tobacco giants, labor exploiters, frackers, and other corporate profiteers celebrates himself "Dr. Evil" – the scourge of all progressive groups!
But Rick Berman is not a doctor, not evil, and not a scourge. While he is a wholly-unprincipled little man, he's just a self-serving huckster who grubs for corporate dollars by offering to do their dirty PR work.
Berman's modus operandi is not exactly sophisticated: Taking money from the likes of Phillip-Morris, Monsanto, and Tyson Foods, he sets up tax-exempt front groups (with non-descript names like Center for Consumer Freedom, Employment Policies Institute, and Environmental Policy Alliance) posing them as independent research outfits; each one is an empty shell, run by his small staff out of his Washington, DC office; using the names of the front groups, Berman and Co. buy full-page newspaper ads and write opinion pieces that amount to raw hatchet attacks on whatever progressive groups or public policies the corporate funders want to kill.
Recently there was an important victory for working people. After a six-weeks’ long strike, oil refinery workers at four plants, members of the United Steelworkers (USW), and Shell Oil came to an agreement on a potential contract. The union cited a number of reasons for striking. Of course wages and the cost of medical insurance were issues. But even more in dispute was the continuing practice by oil companies of reducing the number of men and women working at their refineries, which means that the remaining workers have to do the jobs of those let go and toil longer hours. This invariably leads to fatigue and jeopardizes the safety of both employees and the surrounding communities. In addition, the companies were also using some outside contractors who do not have the same training and skill levels of long-time union employees. All of this directly affects safety. While there continue to be strikes at some of the plants—including BP in Illinois, which has yet to meet the local union’s demands—the contract agreed to represents a major win for labor. Said USW International President Leo Gerard:
“We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership. There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.”
Working at an oil refinery is difficult and frequently dangerous work. Persons work with heavy equipment and a natural resource, oil, which is volatile and highly flammable. An explosion at a BP refinery outside Houston in 2005 killed 15 workers and injured nearly 200. Regulators found BP responsible for knowingly violating safety protocols, and imposed millions in fines. Yet four years later, OSHA found 700 additional violations (NYT 10/30/09) and fined the company $87 million more for not correcting the violations that had caused the first explosion. In an article in Labor Notes by Stephanie Winslow there is this:
“‘We have a lot of forced overtime,’ said Dave Martin, vice president of the local striking the Marathon refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. ‘That was one of the main issues in the Texas explosion: people working overtime and not making the right decisions.’”
Online Editor, Campaign for America's Future
Pope Francis is preparing to deliver a major “encyclical,” or address to clergy, that declares preventing a climate crisis to be a moral imperative. This will be a landmark moment: the marriage of faith and science by one of the world’s most influential religious leaders, bolstering international talks to forge a global agreement by the end of the year.
Obviously, the man must be stopped.
At least that’s what the climate science deniers at the Koch Brothers-funded Heartland Institute think. Failing to recognize that the jig is up, Heartland representatives flew to the Vatican this week, and infiltrated a press conference tied to the church’s climate summit that is a precursor to the encyclical.
January 18, 1943 marks the death of the first woman general organizer appointed by the American Federation of Labor. Mary Kenney O'Sullivan was born the only child of working-class Irish immigrants, in Hannibal, Missouri.