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It doesn’t take highly-advanced knowledge and skills to work at one of these quick-fix automobile maintenance chains that specialize in routine jobs like muffler replacement or oil changes. But handling maintenance at a huge petro-chemical complex is a whole other story – an oil refinery is not a Jiffy Lube.
But the big shots of Big Oil have been treating maintenance at their explosive refineries as a task to be done on the cheap. BP, ExxonMobil, Motiva, Tesoro, and other global oil profiteers have been cutting back on the experienced, technically-skilled people responsible for keeping the miles of pipes, high-pressure equipment, balky gauges, and flammable liquids functioning properly and – most important – harmlessly. The top bosses (safely ensconced in faraway corporate headquarters) have decreed that maintenance and safety be contracted out to low-cost firms using temporary, inexperienced, inadequately-trained workers.
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The impact of trying to save money on safety has been… well, explosive. Two occupational safety experts, Celeste Monforton and Barbara Rahke, report that, “Once every eight days, a serious fire, explosion, or toxic release takes place at a US refinery.” Death happens when bosses play with fire – and that’s why the United Steelworkers union has been on strike at refineries across the country. “None of us wants to be the next person to lose his life for no good reason,” says a refinery worker on the picket line in Anacortes, Washington.
Of course, Big Oil’s bosses dismiss the danger. Motiva’s CEO, Dan Romasko, glibly said the strike is not about safety, but about increasing the number of union jobs.
Well, yeah – union maintenance workers know how to do the job right! I’ll bet if we moved Don’s office inside the refinery, safety would suddenly become priority #1.
“Safety and staffing two sides of same coin in refinery work,” Austin American Statesman, March 13, 2015.