Marathon Petroleum (MPC) has some glitzy publications explaining its philosophy of “corporate citizenship.” The documents describe the company’s “deep involvement in the communities where we are privileged to do business.” They cover topics such as “Our People,” “Health & Safety,” and “Governance and Integrity.” But one recent act of disrespect may say more about MPC’s philosophy than their words on glossy paper.
It happened last week on the 10 year anniversary of a catastrophe at its Galveston Bay refinery which killed 15 workers and injured at least 170 people. The refinery was owned at the time by British Petroleum (BP). Members of the community held a candlelight vigil to remember the 31 men and four women who suffered fatal injuries at the plant since 1980. It was held on the perimeter of the refinery, which is currently the subject of a two-month old strike by the United Steelworkers (USW.)
The solemn ceremony, complete with a bagpipe musician playing Amazing Grace, included placing 35 small white crosses on a grassy easement in front of the refinery. Each cross bore the name of one of those 35 workers, but the display of crosses was gone before sunrise the next morning.
“….picketers at the refinery gates watched a representative of management come out of one of your office buildings and remove all of the crosses,”
wrote Sonny Sanders of USW District 13 in a complaint to a MPC official. Organizers planned to leave the crosses in place for 24 hours.
It’s a mystery to me why MPC would take offense with the temporary memorial. The company purchased the refinery two years ago, and none of the 35 fatality victims were MPC employees. The most recent fatality at the plant occurred in 2008 when it was owned by BP. What harm did MPC think the crosses would cause?
Jason Samtson, a participant at the vigil, told Christopher Smith Gonzalez of Galveston County’s The Daily News:
“I think it is just a very wrong, tasteless and classless move to not even leave them up there for 24 hours. [The disaster] was the most devastating thing I’ve seen in my life. It just bothered me that they couldn’t even leave those crosses up.”
It’s odd. MPC — a $27 Billion company— is troubled by 35 little white crosses?
MPC corporate promotional materials say:
“We have the highest regard for the health and safety of our employees, contractors and neighboring communities.”
To me, having a high regard for health and safety includes acknowledging that uncontrolled hazards and irresponsible business decisions can have deadly consequences.
As USW’s Sonny Sanders explained:
“…members of USW Local 13-1 believe that the memorial is a strong reminder of just how hazardous our work can be and how important it is to work together to make sure that at the end of the shift we all get to go home safe.”
Even if MPC didn’t appreciate the memorial, the company says it embraces
“…the diversity of thought, ideas and opinions that promotes creativity and capitalize on differing points of view.”
Participating in the vigil or simply acknowledging that the display held special meaning in the community would have demonstrated an appreciation for “differing points of view.” Had MPC officials participated in the vigil, they may have learned that some of the cross bearers had a special connection to the plant. Brandi Sanders, who is also with USW’s District 13, explained
“…many of the people who presented crosses were people from our fire department, EMTs who responded to those fatalities.”
Instead, MPC showed disrespect to the participants, and to the deceased and their families.
USW’s Brandi Sanders did not shy away from linking the 35 work-related fatality victims to the ongoing strike against MPC.
“This strike is about health and safety. When you look at the company’s risk profile and the risks that they are willing to take it’s all about money, and time, and what they think is cost-effective. If it’s cheaper for them to cut the time to clean a vessel, so they can get it back into service faster, well that’s what they are going to chose.
But if it’s not cleaned properly and put back into service faster …there’s a risk for explosion. [The company] will assume the risks on the front end, but we’re left starting up the equipment and we face all of the risks head on.”
I’m not the only person noticing the disconnect between Marathon’s— and other petrochemical firms’—corporate rhetoric about their values and reality. Former district court judge Susan Criss wrote an op-ed which appeared in the February 16 edition of The Daily News. Criss presided over more than 4,000 legal claims that stemmed from the March 2005 explosion at the Galveston Bay refinery.
“These companies invest in chamber of commerce activities and advertising dollars to prove their support of their neighboring communities. They send representatives to chamber and charity events to show they care. Talent, resources and dollars are spent promoting their corporate good will and good citizen images. Yet they refuse to spend money maintaining refinery machinery in decent enough condition to prevent their workers from being killed.”
Brandi Sanders told me that the Texas City Police Department returned the crosses to the USW’s union hall the following afternoon. She said the union doesn’t know how the police got the crosses. Sanders added:
“They are now displayed in front of our union hall for all to see.”