United Steelworkers rally for refinery safety
Texas refinery workers along with refinery workers throughout the country are striking against several refinery operators including Shell, LyondellBasell, and Motiva Enterprises. They intend to keep the strike going until their demands are satisfied.
On March 5th, 2015 the United Steelworkers Texas refinery workers had a very large protest with north of 500 workers participating. They rallied in front of both the Shell and LyondellBasell headquarters in Houston Texas. They were very well organized. All the workers present were knowledgeable on the issues they were fighting for.
The President of United Steelworkers Local 13-1 Lee Medley said that this action is not about money. “This is about safety,” Lee Medley said. “It’s about people being qualified and trained at these refineries. It’s about working long hours and people getting on the roads and putting other folks in danger. … We have good jobs. We want to come home from these jobs safely though. … This is not about money. There has been no arguments over the money.”
Medley went on to say that even the companies acknowledged that it was not about wages. He said that what’s not talked about is the retrogression language. The workers must have ‘no retrogression’ language in the contract.
United Steelworkers sub-district director Ben Lilienfeld
Later I spoke to United Steelworkers sub-director Ben Lilienfeld. He echoed the president of Local 13-1 Lee Medley’s position stating that the protests and strikes were not about money but about safety. I commend them both for sticking to that truthful but lacking narrative.
These Texans and American refinery workers throughout the country are very hard workers. For all practical purposes they work in dangerous environments that put their lives at risk. They are exposed daily to higher levels of chemicals that over time do their bodies much harm. While these workers are well-compensated relative to the population at large, that compensation was won because of the power of unions to concentrate the voices of the workers.
Many of these workers seemed concerned about bringing up the issue of money. They fear they will lose support of the poorly paid non-union workers throughout the nation. Wage envy?
Here is the reality. It is about money. The lack of safety is about money — corporate and shareholder profits at the expense of the safety of employees, less expensive poorly paid contractors used to temper wages. Yes it is about money. Yes it is about protecting the wages they fought for and earned with their productivity. It is about ensuring they are not undercut by a subtle form of outsourcing, contracting.
It is important that unions not only fight for their current members. American wages have fallen as union memberships have declined. Right to Work states are really Right to Work for Much Less states. It is important that unions educate the American worker at large. The survival of unions and with that a vibrant middle class depends on it.