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Latest News - January 2015

January 21, 2015
Union members protest "death" of labor agreement at Marathon
Source: GALVESTON DAILY NEWS
By: CHRISTOPHER SMITH GONZALEZ

TEXAS CITY — More than 50 supporters and members of the United Steelworkers Union marched a coffin from the union hall to the main entrance of Marathon Petroleum’s Galveston Bay Refinery Tuesday.   Union members said they were protesting the “death” of a long-standing labor partnership agreement between the workers and management at the city’s largest refinery that employs more than 2,500 people, many of whom are union members. Marathon Petroleum canceled the agreement in December, union officials said.

A company spokesman said Marathon is committed to a safe workplace.  Union members said cancellation of the agreement threatens safety procedures. It also comes on the eve of nationwide collective bargaining agreements between the union and oil companies.   A Marathon spokesperson said the company would “not comment on pending or ongoing labor negotiations.”  But Sonny Sanders, sub district director of United Steelworkers Union, said the labor agreement, which had been in place since the 1996, had been an example of cooperation, eased negotiations and gave workers a voice on safety and many other issues. It brought the two sides together and created a cooperative environment rather than an adversarial one between labor and management, he said.

“It leaves a huge void on how we are going to do work, how we are going to interact with the company,” Sanders said.   He and other union members and refinery workers said they were concerned that safety procedures were eroding at the refinery.   Marathon Petroleum purchased the refinery from BP in 2012 and took over operations last year.   Worker safety, Marathon Petroleum spokesman Jamal Kheiry said, remains the top priority.  “Our focus is on continually improving on-the-job safety, process safety, and facility and employee security through training, awareness, performance improvement and compliance programs,” he stated in an email.

But David Mitchell, a member of the union’s local negotiating group and an employee with seven years’ experience at the refinery, pointed to an emissions event last week that sent catalyst over areas south and west of Texas City as an example of the safety concerns that he and others have.   “We just dusted the whole community,” Mitchell said.   Thomas Garland, the health and safety representative with the union and an employee at the refinery said the labor partnership gave workers a voice on safety and other matters, but that has changed since the cancellation of the agreement.

“Marathon has chosen to restrict our input on certain things,” he said.   Getting rid of the labor agreement would make negotiations more difficult, Sanders said.   The agreement provided a way for the two sides to work out issues related to work performed at the refinery that will now become part of the collective bargaining negotiations, he said.   Rather than a cooperative negotiation, Sanders said, getting rid of the agreement meant the union would have resort to “more traditional means of addressing that company,” which could even include a strike.  “You’ve added a huge complicating factor by canceling this labor partnership, to the bargaining process,” Sanders said.

 

 

 


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