That’s a big bunch of oil workers from the United Steelworkers union on strike at a refinery in Kentucky. They and thousands of others at refineries and chemical plants in Texas, California, and Washington are staging the first USW walkouts since 1980. And they’re doing it not just for wages, but for one of the reasons why unions started in the first place: worker safety. And they’re striking against the biggest oil conglomerates – Chevron, Shell, and others.
Yeah, it seems you can only have so many years of industrial accidents, explosions, and general catastrophes, due often to worn out equipment and cost-cutting measures that have left workers exposed to greater risks. As one refinery worker writes in The Guardian, “It’s frustrating. We know the refineries aren’t doing enough. At Tesoro, the explosion in 2010 didn’t come as a real surprise. The equipment that failed had a history of leaks and fires.”
Seven people died in that Tesoro refinery in Washington, and at one in California, the California Nurses Association joined the oil workers on the picket line. Said a CNA spokeswoman, “We stand in solidarity over their safety concerns and the fact that they are the front-line workers who are going to see when something is wrong.” She demanded that whistleblower protection be written into the contracts, too.
Right now, the strike by 5200 workers is affecting 13 percent of the fuel output of the United States. If the full USW went out, it would affect 64 percent. You’d feel that. Every now and then, it’s good to be reminded that some good can come of something that the right has successfully vilified, nearly into non-existence.
But unions are still here. And they still demand to be heard.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on February 13, 2015, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.