April 1, 2015 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 17Comment

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.”

 

17 thoughts on “Oil company uncomfortable with reminder of 35 deaths at Galveston refinery

  1. Residing in a country whose economy has grown due to mining, local communities are a vital source of support if a company is to grow. The main goal of mining companies should be safety. This shows that it values its labourers, what the mining company did is unheard of as the community is the foundation of the mine. Showing respect to the deceased and their loved ones would only strengthen the community’s faith in the company. Faith that accident rates would decrease and that the people that died did not do so in vain. Safety is the basic foundation of mining and geologically speaking the community should benefit from the mine.

  2. Since the industrial revolution, the mining industry has not acknowledged the workers who lost their lives in mining accidents. They choose to make up excuses of miners causing accidents due to human error and hide facts. It should be allowed for mourning family members to show their sorrow at anniversary events and mining companies must do everything possible to support these families by showing respect and allow symbols of memorial. 15015964

  3. When it comes to any big company I think we should always remember what it’s true purpose is: to make money. All companies like to engage in the community to improve their image and have the support of these communities, but the bottom line will always be keeping investors happy and if that includes slacking on safety the increase revenue they will usually choose higher revenue.
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  4. I think that “very wrong, tasteless and classless”, is the perfect way to describe this reaction to the anniversary. With the hundreds of different high risk occupation fields out there today, I think that people should take notice of occurrences like these. Anniversaries of catastrophic fatalities like these should actually start campaigns for job safety or make people aware of the risk involved in some occupations, rather than to spark some sort of dispute. And if you do not agree with the whole idea, the least you can do is to respect the families of the deceased and give them the opportunity to mourn in peace.

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  5. Spot on Maryke du Plessis. I agree that any large company would rather choose income over safety. This is obvious as it is not the leaders who will suffer if an accident is to happen, but the workers. I understand that the company prefers to leave machinery as they are for as long as possible to prevent any additional costs and I am almost certain that most of the employees won’t complain as this could lead to higher salaries. I do however believe that safety SHOULD come first, but in the day and age we live in this will be hard to achieve as the main focus is money and accomplishment.

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  6. The irony of this whole occurrence is astounding! While the mine is experiencing a strike about health and safety they completely contradict their own written policies by an act of utter disregard towards its own people, giving every striker even more cause. Though the company is newly owned I believe it still has a responsibility towards its past. Maybe authorities should inspect the application of promised policies and regulations, regarding worker safety, and their upholding before legalizing certain operations. The old proverb about actions and words is proven once again.
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  7. The irony of this whole occurrence is astounding! While the mine is experiencing a strike about health and safety it completely contradicts its own written policies by an act of utter disregard towards its own people, giving every striker even more cause. I believe that even though the company is newly owned, it still has a responsibility towards its past. Maybe authorities should inspect the application of these well-worded policies, regarding worker safety, and their upholding before legalizing certain operations. It is a pity that the old proverb about words and actions is proven once again under these circumstances.

  8. There are two sides to every story. It is easy to claim that MPC acted insensitively towards the memorial for the 35 deceased workers. However, was the company notified beforehand that the memorial would take place and were they invited to participate? Was it made clear to the company that the crosses would be removed after 24 hours? If they weren’t aware of the intentions of the union, it is possible that MPC was showing respect for the crosses by collecting them and handing them to the police to be returned to the union “the following afternoon”. u15021689

  9. I think for MPC it is simply a matter of fear of being misrepresented to the general public because as stated BP owned the plant at the time of the accident of MPC has no connection to whatsoever,I do not think it is far to expect MPC to just accept that the memorial service be held there as they had no part in the killings of the workers,because now the public views them as a company that does not cater for its workers and their needs which is misrepresentation.

  10. It”s a sad issue that mine owners continue to value their profits more than their workers lives . It’s time they invest more on safety of the workers , if they cannot even honour them when they have passed on while in duty . An investment on more skilled mine surveyors a could help remedy such situations , than most of the money going into the owners pockets while people are dying. 13413890

  11. The primary concern with large companies is how to maximise the profit. Then comes the concern of the workers. To big industries, workers are just numbers, not individual entities.

    I once shadowed a Health and Safety audit on a fairly large company. Expecting the health and safety precautions to be well-run and updated, I was shocked. Not only did the workers have no idea how to put a harness on, which is a basic safety precaution, they also did not know how to work the emergency showers (as this was in a chemical plant), contrary to the claims the manager had made.

    It is apparent that individual risks are of no concern. The risk of tainting the company’s image is another story.
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  12. It’s sickening to think that people cherish money over life. Do these companies not have inspections done by external safety organisations? Unfortunately, society cannot just merely sit back, wag their disapproving finger and expect a stubborn, money craving company to change their ways.

    Action only seems to take place, against these companies, when an devastating accident has taken place, resulting in fatalities, which is then too late. Safety organisations need to be proactive and release warnings to these unsafe companies, and if there is no follow-through done on the company’s behalf, there will be a forced closure of that company until the safety requirements have been met. Maybe by stopping the company’s in-flow of money will open their eyes to real seriousness of the situation.
    (15079890)

  13. It’s all about appearances, people are fooled everyday by the facade of companies, with their ‘health and safety’ legislation. As long as it looks good from the outsiders prospective, the companies couldn’t care what impact the environment in which the workers are placed have on them as long as they are making a profit. It’s sad to think that these men and women give their all everyday in life threatening situations only to see change when the greatest sacrifice has been made. What has happened to pro-activity? Where are the watch dogs and mandatory inspections?

  14. Ethically and to most people, logically, a firm such as MPC should be well aware of their health and safety regulations that they have in place – especially seeing as the employees undergo major life risk whilst doing their jobs. I am undoubtedly sure that the company does what they feel is necessary in order to ensure that their employees are safe – if this is not the case, there would have been plenty more disasters.

    MPC would most definitely have been under major scrutiny as a result of the strikes. The firm’s management would see the crosses as an opportunity for even more damage to their precious reputation and image. As a student in the commerce faculty, I can easily see why they made the decision to remove the crosses.

    Although, their image has still suffered, the PR portfolio for MPC would have weighed up this damage to that if the crosses had remained erected. A firm such as MPC would be worried about profit maximization and share price. Thus, the decision they made to remove the crosses was most probably made in order to do this and they were with out a doubt aware of the repercussions.

  15. Ethically and to most people, logically, a firm such as MPC should be well aware of their health and safety regulations that they have in place – especially seeing as the employees undergo major life risk whilst doing their jobs. I am undoubtedly sure that the company does what they feel is necessary in order to ensure that their employees are safe – if this is not the case, there would have been plenty more disasters.

    MPC would most definitely have been under major scrutiny as a result of the strikes. The firm’s management would see the crosses as an opportunity for even more damage to their precious reputation and image. As a student in the commerce faculty, I can easily see why they made the decision to remove the crosses.

    Although, their image has still suffered, the PR portfolio for MPC would have weighed up this damage to that if the crosses had remained erected. A firm such as MPC would be worried about profit maximization and share price. Thus, the decision they made to remove the crosses was most probably made in order to do this and they were with out a doubt aware of the repercussions.

  16. All industries are governed through legislation intended to safeguard workers in plants and mines. Responsible and caring Management should introduce “extended legislation” (systems, procedures and processes) to ensure the safety of a company’s most valuable asset, the people. Control mechanisms to prevent accidents during production activities are obviously not always a sliver bullet to prevent all accidents. Hazards is an integral part of any production facilities and as humans we are learning as we experience. The Occupational Health Acts is “written in blood”. The blood of people who lost their lives at work. It is a certain fact that accidents will occur again in future not withstanding the good intentions of management and employees to prevent it. In such an unfortunate event I feel that the value in remembering such events have value for the community and the company. The company should use the opportunity to sharpen its pencil and keep workers and management vigilant on safety and health. The company should also allow the community to mourn the loss of loved once as we cannot hide or erase history. U15048722

  17. It would have been so easy for MPC to show their interest in the community and also respect for the people who lost their lives, although it happened before they were the owners of the company. However, putting the words from brochures into action seems to be a challenge for most companies where these words are not taken to heart, and actually believed and lived by the management structures and employees. (04648685)

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