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ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Veers Away From Unions, United Steel Staff Say

On a drive via Baton Rouge on Interstate one hundred ten, you’ve got in all probability seen the sprawling ExxonMobil complex, containing a 502,000 barrel-per-day refinery and a chemical plant subsequent to the Mississippi River. The refinery is the second largest within the nation, following the corporate’s Baytown, Texas operation. Many workers on the Baton Rouge complicated are nicely-paid United Steel Staff. However as older union members retire, ExxonMobil is hiring youthful employees, typically as contractors.

“Roughly a thousand of the overall 3,800 workers at the company’s refinery and chemical plant in Baton Rouge are represented by the USW union,” Bob Landry, USW Local 13-12 spokesman, said final week. “Of those thousand union-represented employees, between seventy two and seventy five percent are members of Native 13-12. In recent years, towers at wyncote nonetheless, the company has been hiring nonunion, contract staff at decrease pay with less benefits.” In the 1960s and 1970s, as many as three,000 workers on the complicated had been represented by the union, and about 98 p.c had been dues-paying members, he mentioned.

Landry retired in 2008 after 36 years at the Exxon Mobil Baton Rouge chemical plant, the place he was an operator. He is a former president of Local thirteen-12 and former president of the Union Council of Exxon Mobil Workers of North America.

“Exxon Mobil Baton Rouge now employs contractors at the docks and the loading racks,” Landry stated. “Each of those were union-contract-represented, wage jobs up to now. And the company has employed lab technicians and mechanical employees–also union-represented jobs prior to now–as contractors.”

The common USW worker on the advanced has been there 15 years and is paid $70,000 a year, the very best common salary ever, Landry stated. Over two dozen workers on the advanced are electricians and members of the Worldwide Brotherhood of Electrical Employees. More than a dozen security guards are members of another union.

Newly employed workers have a alternative of whether to affix a union or not, Landry mentioned. “Louisiana is a proper to work state, and nobody has to pay union dues if they do not wish to,” he said.

Lynne Hancock, Pittsburgh-based mostly spokeswoman for the USW, said not having to pay union dues weakens the union, which pays for companies it supplies to plant staff who do not contribute a dime. Underneath right to work laws, a union must symbolize each eligible employee, whether or not he or she pays dues.

“ExxonMobil is placing heat on unions, they’re making an attempt to diffuse union actions and in the end to eliminate us,” Landry said. The company hires family members of employees who’re anti-union, he said. “They set up union representatives for failure, citing issues on the job, after which they self-discipline and hearth them. They’ve been fighting staff who’ve filed grievances.” Last yr, at its refinery in Baytown, Texas, ExxonMobil fired the president and vice president of the union local simply before their contract bargaining was due to start.

As we speak’s young workers are involved about job security. “They worry about losing their jobs,” Landry mentioned. “Exxon Mobil is hiring a whole lot of young people after older workers retired within the final five years. Many young individuals do not know in regards to the historical past and the necessity for a union. And they saw what happened this yr in Wisconsin, where public employees have been stripped of collective bargaining rights.”

Stephanie Cargile, public and authorities affairs supervisor at ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, final week said many staff at the corporate have reached retirement age. “Our hiring outlook for brand new staff is strong with about 75 to 100 new workers wanted annually over the next few years,” she stated. “In Baton Rouge, we’re seeing progress in a number of sectors, including pipefitting, welding and electrical crafts.”

The corporate employs contractors to complement its workforce. “We use quite a lot of contractors to manage peak workloads,” she mentioned. “These further staff are helpful during turnarounds, once we do equipment upkeep on site. Excluding turnarounds, nonetheless, we utilize fewer routine contractors than our personal worker workforce.”

At the Baton Rouge refinery and chemical complex, “the numbers of staff versus contractors have been about even for the final a number of years,” she stated.

In June of last 12 months, Native 13-12 signed a three-year contract with ExxonMobil Baton Rouge after three months of negotiations. Talks beneath Nationwide Oil Bargaining, which units wages, advantages and working circumstances for contracts across the nation’s oil industry, had been thorny. “It wasn’t a superb expertise,” Landry mentioned. “And we didn’t get the complete-time safety officer in Baton Rouge that we wanted in our contract.”

Oil firms would quite not interact in National Oil Bargaining because NOB offers collective bargaining power to the workers, Hancock of USW stated. NOB talks happen nationally and locally at the same time, she said. When an agreement over wages, well being care and dealing circumstances is reached at the national bargaining desk with the oil sector’s “lead company,” which was Shell Oil within the 2012 spherical of negotiations, that accord units the sample for the trade.

On the native level, “in last year’s contract negotiations in Baton Rouge, ExxonMobil actively tried to pit staff in opposition to the union,” Hancock said.

Landry weighed in on observations from the Environmental Safety Agency after it paid a shock visit to the Baton Rouge refinery a year ago. EPA inspected the refinery from July 16 to 20, 2012 to see whether or not it complied with the Clean Air Act. A report issued by EPA, and obtained by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade underneath the liberty of knowledge Act in February, mentioned the refinery contained closely corroded pipes and ruptured pipelines; pipes and different equipment that had been overdue for internal inspection; and inadequate documentation for emergency and shutdown procedures.

Landry stated the Baton Rouge refinery looks extra worn than it used to. “Within the 1980s, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge and petrochemical plants throughout the nation had painters in all places,” he stated. “They scraped paint and repainted, and made all the things inside the plant look good.” He mentioned that was part of a high quality drive started by Japanese companies in the1950s, beneath the instruction of U.S. industrial skilled Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Quality initiatives were adopted by American manufacturers within the 1980s.

“Within the 1980s, the targets were to make the inside of a plant look good and to end up merchandise that met 99.9 percent of specs,” Landry mentioned. But in the 1990s, that push for perfection was thought-about too costly, and cost control grew to become more necessary to ExxonMobil and other companies.

Photos from the EPA’s refinery inspection a year in the past show exterior rust on pipes, Landry stated. “However what’s more essential is inside corrosion,” he said. “It’s arduous to quantify the extent to which pipes at the Baton Rouge refinery are corroded and thin.”

EPA mentioned ExxonMobil did not adequately document the minimum variety of personnel required to handle emergency procedures.

“The refinery cut a lot of operations jobs in the 1990s,” Landry mentioned. “We thought they cut too many. The plant hasn’t had enough folks since. Operations are lean so ExxonMobil can save money.”

In 2011, the U.S. Occupational Security and Well being Administration said the Baton Rouge plant didn’t have enough workers for an emergency shutdown, Landry said. “However ExxonMobil appealed and OSHA dropped the cost,” he stated.

Regarding that cost, USW in a Feb. 28, 2013 statement stated OSHA had cited ExxonMobil Baton Rouge–following OSHA’s inspection of the location on Could 12, 2011–for not having the minimal employees to shut down a particular unit during an emergency. “However, the corporate negotiated away the citation,” USW said.

As for safety, “you could possibly go for years and nothing a lot happens, however then one thing big happens,” Landry mentioned. “The complex comprises unstable chemicals and heavy gear so there is a constructed-in risk that somebody would possibly get damage. Like when you are driving down the street, something could occur at any moment. You stay alert within the plant however you attempt to be snug.”

In 1993, three folks were killed in a coker fire on the refinery, and two staff died after an explosion rocked the refinery on Christmas Eve 1989. In the 1989 accident, windows were shattered downtown and aftershocks had been felt miles away.

In response to ExxonMobil Baton Rouge, workers and contractors are engaged in quite a few security initiatives. All workers meet each Wednesday to overview safety standards, traits and improvement initiatives, Cargile mentioned. Each division sponsors employee-led safety committees in order that workers can increase issues and deal with frequent issues.

The Baton Rouge refinery spends $30 million yearly on equipment inspections, and over 100 trained personnel work on those inspections yearly, Cargile mentioned. “The inspection of piping, stress vessels, tanks and different equipment consists of use of technologies like ultrasonic thickness measurements, radiography and dye penetrant testing,” she stated. A schedule based on danger is used to guide inspections.

Landry discussed the refinery’s appreciable presence within the area. Standard Oil opened a refinery at the current East Baton Rouge site in 1909, and town grew up around it, he said. “Commonplace Oil changed into ExxonMobil within the last century,” he mentioned. In late 1999, Exxon and Mobil joined to type ExxonMobil Corp.

“Many workers used to stay in neighboring Commonplace Heights and Dixie, and they walked or biked to their jobs,” Landry mentioned. “But they started moving away in the 1960s throughout white flight and suburbanization.” Neighboring communities have gotten smaller, and they’re lower earnings now, he stated.

“In the late 1980s and nineties, ExxonMobil purchased out lots of home homeowners and it established green zones with timber around the plant,” Landry said. “Most people who wanted to sell their properties did then. Now the neighborhood is primarily holdouts, or homeowners who have not wished to depart, and renters.”

Beneath the Baton Rouge complex Greenbelt Program, began in 1988, property is bought at prices based on certified towers at wyncote appraisals, Cargile at ExxonMobil mentioned. “This can towers at wyncote be a voluntary program and some neighbors have chosen to remain in their houses.”

Residents staying rooted next to the complicated face hazards. Last month, Smith Stag, LLC in New Orleans filed a class action suit on behalf of ten African American, Commonplace Heights residents and seven minor kids, affected by a June 14, 2012 chemical leak at ExxonMobil’s aromatics production unit.

The company employs a couple of folks from Normal Heights and Dixie however they’re largely contractors, Landry mentioned. The two communities are mainly African American. He said ExxonMobil has to follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Fee’s affirmative action guidelines so that it cannot discriminate by race and ethnicity in hiring.

As for the standing of Native thirteen-12, “the union is speaking with younger workers about why they need to be a part of,” Landry stated. “ExxonMobil really tried to undermine us last 12 months. We wish to get our membership again up forward of our next contract negotiations in 2015.”

Landry mentioned ExxonMobil is a giant bully. “They’re answerable for complying with the Clear Air Act however they do not wish to answer to anybody,” he said.