WHITING – In the dusk and cold, the men huddled with heads bowed at the busy intersection of Indianapolis Boulevard and 129th Street.
As the horns of passing cars blared nearly non-stop, the refinery workers stood silently while they called off the names of the dead. They lit a candle at a sidewalk memorial for each of the 15 contractors who were killed in an explosion at the BP Texas City Refinery a decade ago. Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of the deadly blast, which also injured more than 170 refinery workers and shattered windows up to three-quarters of a mile away.
“This is why we’re out here,” United Steelworker Local 7-1 member Ralph Ford said during the ceremony. “This is why we’ll continue to be out here. Please don’t let their deaths become faded in your memory.”
Workers at the BP Whiting Refinery have been striking for seven weeks.
BP says it has offered a fair contract that would let it remain competitive while boosting workers’ pay and prioritizing safety. The London-based energy company has already reached agreements with union locals in Alaska and Texas.
USW Local 7-1 and BP return to the bargaining table Tuesday. Both sides have been saying they would like to see an end to the strike.
Picketing USW members say they are mainly on the picket lines to preserve bargaining rights and to create a safer workplace. They are for instance concerned that the company is more focused on preventing slips, trips and falls than an updating equipment that could trigger explosions if it’s not properly maintained.
Every day, workers at the BP Whiting Refinery handle dangerous chemicals the same as those at the Texas City refinery, Ford said. Such devastating explosion could just as easily have happened in Whiting, and strike is about workers being able to go home safe and sound, he said.
“We’re not making chocolate chip cookies,” Ford said. “Refineries are dangerous places. We’re working with dangerous chemicals. It takes years of training, years of dedication, and years of skill to operate them safely. We all want to make sure we’re all able to go home to our families at the end of every day.”
USW members point to a report on the Texas City explosion, which identified fatigue as a contributing factor. They say it shows the need for more full-time workers, so employees don’t have to put in so much overtime or work so many consecutive days without a break.
“When guys are working 18 hour shifts or multiple days in a row, they get fatigued,” Ford said. “They make mistakes. Not every mistake is deadly. But in Texas City, they paid the ultimate price for a mistake.”
This article was written by JOSEPH S. PETE from The Times, Munster, Ind. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.