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Refinery safety bill could threaten jobs

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

In a 7-2 vote on Tuesday, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee approved an amendment to Senate Bill 54 (SB54). It was schedule to go to the full Senate for a vote on Wednesday, however it is as yet unknown whether the Senate have acted on it.

SB54 would require contract workers performing construction, alteration, demolition, installation, repair or maintenance to use a workforce trained in an apprenticeable occupation in the building and construction trades.

Contractors’ apprentices would have to be registered in training programs approved by the chief of the Division of Apprenticeship Standards and 60% of their journeypersons would have to be graduates of those programs.

A group of contract workers at the Phillips 66 refinery in Nipomo claim that their jobs will be in jeopardy if the amendment if approved.

Members of the United Steelworkers went to Sacramento to lobby against the bill on Wednesday. The union has additionally filed a jurisdictional dispute with the AFL-CIO.

Members of the union that work for Transfield Services of America claim that if SB54 becomes law, it will leave 60% of the workforce at the refinery without jobs. Those workers will be replaced by members of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California, an arm of the AFL-CIO, who can enroll in an apprentice training program mandated by the bill.

‘This bill is going to be a job killer for people like us at this refinery’ said Mike Carroll, who has been a contract employee there for 35 years. He said 100 of 190 workers at the Phillips 66 are likely to lose their jobs if the bill is approved.

However, Larry Levin, Director of Communications and spokesman for Sen. Lori Hancock, has disputed the claim that only members of the building and construction trades could be certified for refinery contract work. He said that any union can apply to the Division of Apprenticeship Standards to create a qualified training program.

He also said that the bill is purely about safety at oil refineries and not intended to favour any union. The amendment was prompted by the August 2012 explosion and fire at the Chevron Richmond refinery.

Levin emphasised that the bill ‘applies only to workers that refineries bring in on a temporary contract basis, many from out of state.’ Levin said the requirements only apply to workers brought in to do a specified job in a specified period of time.

However, he did acknowledge that ‘a tiny percentage’ of contract workers may have been employed at a specific refinery for a long period of time. This small percentage might be affected. 

Edited from various sources by Emma McAleavey.

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