By Lee E. Ducco, Jr., United Steelworkers, Local 1945
I have worked at a refinery here for years. This job has helped me provide for myself and my family and I am lucky to be able to say that I love what I do and where I am. Unfortunately, there is current legislation that will put not only my job but thousands of refinery jobs in jeopardy.
Right now, legislators in Sacramento are considering Senate Bill 54 by Senator Loni Hancock. This last minute legislation would displace up to 5,000 workers who have long-term, craft specific experience.
Specifically, this legislation places the idea that a new so-called safety curriculum, which will not exist for the next four years, coupled with current trade apprenticeship programs will improve safety at refineries. However, the reality is that myself and my colleagues far exceed the standards of existing trade apprenticeship programs due to our extensive refinery-specific, on-the-job experience and training. Along with our craft specific experience, we also participate in additional rigorous, refinery-specific safety training.
Many of us have been working in this industry for years and we already have extensive safety training and experience. To say that we are experts at safety is putting it mildly. Due to the fact that we put our lives at risk daily it is essential that we be educated on all proper safety procedures.
To add insult to injury, this legislation distracts from the real issue by highlighting several incidents that have occurred at high hazard industrial facilities. But, recent refinery incident investigations by the Chemical Safety Board have shown that no incidents were due to the workers. Workers do the right thing by immediately reporting any and all problems, because it can mean the difference between life and death for us and our community. If this legislation is passed we would lose our key workforce along with their many years of expertise and that will endanger many people.
This legislation doesn’t do anything about protecting safety. In fact, SB 54 suggests that all workers at high hazard facilities should complete this so-called safety curriculum by January 2018. But new workers could start working at these high hazard facilities in less than six months. The bottom line is that this legislation will put about 60 percent of our workers into unemployment lines while increasing the risk to public safety. The bill has no safety elements in it, focusing only on displacing 60% of our workers and replacing us with a rotating series of workers, and the majority have never set foot in a refinery in their lives! That makes it very dangerous for all of us, and places our families and neighbors directly at risk.
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Remember, this bill is nothing more than a power play that will jeopardize worker and community safety. It also means that skilled, qualified workers who need a steady paycheck to provide for their family will lose their job and will be replaced by unqualified, inexperienced workers who will probably not get safety training for years.
This legislation fails to allow equal educational access for non-trade workers and fails to recognize equivalent training programs that currently exist. There is a reason why this proposal has been brought up and failed many times before.
Many of my co-workers along with myself have worked hard to ensure a safe environment not only for ourselves but for our surrounding communities that could be impacted. So if the state legislature is serious about industrial plant safety, they should be working with us, not against us.
Trying to re-enter the workforce is extremely challenging, and after so many years of doing excellent work, and having the best safety record in the industry, this bill punishes me and my co-workers. We lay our lives on the line everyday within our communities, and now SB 54 is forcing 5,000 of us to lose our jobs, and is putting us on the unemployment line.
For these reasons and many more, I urge the state legislature to do the right thing and oppose legislation that will impact many jobs and refinery safety throughout the state, and unfairly blames excellent workers for incidents, even though the investigations prove otherwise.
Don’t blame us and punish us by taking away our livelihoods. Don’t take away my ability to provide for my family. Don’t risk workers and community safety. Please listen to our voices. Please protect all of us by voting no on SB 54. Let’s write a bill together that truly is about safety, and that doesn’t unfairly target innocent workers.