USW: California Refinery Explosion Provides Further Evidence of Need for Safety Improvements

Union Calls on Industry to Negotiate Solutions to Protect Workers and Communities

Contact: Wayne Ranick (412) 562-2444, wranick@usw.org

(PITTSBURGH) -- An explosion and fire today at a refinery in Southern California underscores the United Steelworkers’ demand for improved safety conditions to protect both workers and communities.

The explosion at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., occurred as 5,200 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) are conducting unfair labor practice strikes at 11 refineries across the country with safety as a major concern.

“Our members work in dangerous and too often deadly conditions,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “While employers have reaped billions of dollars in profits over the past several years, they have done little to improve conditions for workers and surrounding communities.”

The union is bargaining for new labor agreements to cover about 30,000 workers throughout the oil industry at 65 refineries and hundreds of pipelines, terminals, petrochemical plants and other facilities.

“All too often these explosions kill and maim workers and envelop surrounding communities in toxic materials such as smoke, ash and gases,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway, who is involved in the negotiations with the oil industry.

The blast at the 750-acre Southern California refinery occurred at about 8:50 a.m. Initial reports suggested that four people suffered minor injuries. News photos of the blast site show twisted metal, crushed vehicles and flying ash. Residents nearby reported feeling the ground shake after the blast and seeing smoke and flames.

Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer of USW Local 675, said the blast occurred near a fluid catalytic unit. 

“We thank God that no worker at ExxonMobil - hourly, management, or technical -was killed or seriously injured today,” Campbell said.

Children at about a dozen schools in the area were told to remain inside. The mayor of Torrance told residents near the refinery to stay in their homes, turn off air conditioners and close windows.

“Thankfully, the injuries do not appear to be serious this time, but we and the communities where refineries are located are not always so lucky,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who heads the union’s National Oil Bargaining Program. “We believe that improved safety measures can significantly reduce explosions and fires at these dangerous facilities. 

Every year for the past five years, five workers have died in incidents at U.S. refineries, and surrounding communities have been exposed to smoke and toxic chemicals.

This is at least the second explosion this year at a U.S. refinery. In January, an explosion and fire rocked Husky Energy Inc.’s 155,000-barrel-per-day crude oil refinery in Lima, Ohio, causing extensive damage. No injuries were reported at the Lima refinery, also hit by fire in 2009, although the blast shattered windows and was heard across the city.

The Torrance refinery, located at 3700 W.190th St., operates with 650 employees and 550 contract workers. Most of the operators are represented by the USW and were working under a 24-hour rolling extension of labor agreements that expired on Feb. 1. 

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, plus the service and public sectors. For more information: http://www.usw.org/

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Wayne Ranick at 412-562-2444

Washington D.C. Public Affairs and Legislative Issues:
Gary Hubbard at 202-778-4384

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor Jim McKay

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222