On the picket line in Anacortes, workplace safety tops concerns

Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, issued the following statement on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015:

Yesterday I walked the picket line with about 50 steelworkers at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. Nine plants were struck by the United Steelworkers of America across the country on Sunday, Feb. 1 as national bargaining with powerful and rich oil companies continue. On the corporate side Royal Dutch Shell is tasking the lead.

On the line, I spoke with workers who had worked at the refinery for more than 30 years and had been a part of the last strike in 1980. I also spoke with workers who had not been born yet in 1980 and who had never been on strike. To a person, the main issue for being out was safety at the workplace. Tesoro was fined in 2010 for the tragic explosion that killed seven of our brothers and sisters at the Anacortes refinery. The workers’ perception is that Tesoro is still not taking safety as seriously as they should.

The industry, which is the most profitable in the world, is also trying to shift a greater share of the health care costs onto workers (the deductible for family coverage is already $7,500 per year). Health care coverage for the steelworkers ended at midnight on Feb. 1. Coverage will resume under the USW emergency health plan until COBRA kicks in.

At this point the strike has not yet been sanctioned because of some internal issues that need to be dealt with between the building trades and the steelworkers at the national level.

On the ground in our state I am working with the state building trades and the USW local to make sure that building trades people doing new construction at the Tesoro refinery have unimpeded access to the refinery. My hope is that we can get this squared away quickly. In the meantime, if the striking rank-and-file steelworkers need help by way of food assistance or money, we as a labor movement need to come to their aid. Solidarity is our most precious value.

We will keep you posted on further developments.

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