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.
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.
Co-Director, Author, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Neil Irwin had an interesting Upshot piece that noted polling data showing people do not favor much higher taxes on the rich. It questioned why it was that people were opposed to redistribution even though inequality has become a major national concern.
A major problem with this sort of analysis is that it treats distribution as though it is only a function of tax policy. This is clearly secondary. The upward redistribution of the last 35 years was overwhelmingly the result of government policies that structured the market to favor the wealthy.
For example, trade policy has been quite explicitly designed to put manufacturing workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world. The predicted and actual effect of this policy is to reduce their wages and also the wages of non-college educated workers more generally. By contrast, doctors and other highly-paid professionals (who comprise much of the one percent) have been largely protected from international competition. The argument for exposing these professionals to competition is the same as the argument for trade more generally: it will lead to lower prices and more economic growth. But because of the political power of these groups, free trade in the services of doctors and other professionals is not even discussed in polite circles.
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.