USW: Power Outage at Sherwin Plant Raises Safety Concerns

Contact: Ben Lilienfeld: 832-556-0370, blilienfeld@usw.org

GREGORY, Texas (November 21, 2014) — The United Steelworkers (USW) union is calling on Sherwin Alumina to release more details to the public after an electrical power outage at the plant that began on Wednesday, creating a potentially hazardous situation for the surrounding community.

Sherwin, which locked its doors on 450 USW Local 235A members on Oct. 11, has been operating the plant with inexperienced replacement workers for the past six weeks. The plant lost power at noon on Wednesday, November 19.

“An electrical outage at a refinery like this makes for a potentially dangerous situation, given the caustic chemicals, heat and pressure involved in the refining process. An outage renders the plant’s electric-powered pumps inactive, which can lead to excessive heat and pressure buildup,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Mike Wright. “While they may have dodged a bullet this time, they may not always be so lucky. It’s imperative that the public knows exactly what happened here, and exactly what steps Sherwin has taken to ensure that something like this does not happen again.”

A power outage was a contributing factor in an explosion on July 5, 1999 at a Kaiser Aluminum plant in Gramercy, La., which injured 29 people and left some workers permanently disabled.

“It is difficult enough to bring a plant back online after a power outage under the best conditions,” Wright said. “The fact that Sherwin is operating without its skilled union workforce makes this situation particularly challenging.”

In addition, Wright said, Sherwin already owns a spotty safety record, with an injury severity rate above industry standards and an above-average number of citations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

USW District 13 represents more than 50,000 members in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The USW is the largest industrial union in North America, representing workers in a range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments.

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