This week, United Steelworkers at nearly a dozen refineries across the country went on strike for the first time in 36 years. They had been negotiating a contract with Shell, on behalf of dozens of other oil majors when talks broke down. With oil production in North America at historic levels, you would be forgiven for thinking that oil workers wanted a larger slice of the profits. In fact, the strike is over safety measures.
“Our local union has lost 14 members in 16 years. Quite frankly, we’re tired of our coworkers being killed and being subjected to this risk,” said Steve Garey, USW Local 12-591 President
Hundreds of refineries dot US coasts, and many have been running full-tilt to keep up with the boom in Tar Sands bitumen from Canada and Bakken crude from North Dakota. With increased throughput and lower margins, oil companies like Tesoro, Shell, Chevron and Exxon have increased the risks of injuries, safety hazards and death for workers and communities alike. Confronted with longer hours, more shifts, the same number of staff, and no significant effort by oil companies to increase plant safety, workers are faced with much higher chances of getting sick or being injured or killed on the job.
Refineries run at high pressure, high temperature, emit carcinogens and particulates, and spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These dangerous facilities have a track record of explosions, fatalities and high levels of chronic disease in the communities surrounding them, most often populated with low-income families.
As we move towards a clean energy economy, there should be no throw-away communities and no throw-away workers. At 350.org we stand with refinery workers and call on oil companies to increase safety standards and begin the transition away from dangerous fossil fuels.