USW local voices concerns about new beryllium regulations

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8888 gathered more than 1600 signatures on a petition calling for public hearings on proposed new regulations that weaken worker protections against the ill-effects of beryllium.

Local 8888, the largest union at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, gathered signatures on the petition in just two weeks.

The new beryllium regulations proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exempt the shipbuilding and construction industries from key protections in the proposed regulations.

Beryllium is a light yet strong metal that becomes toxic when its dust or fumes are inhaled even in small amounts. It causes a debilitating and, in some cases, deadly lung disease. It has also been linked to cancer.

For more than ten years, OSHA worked on new regulations that could protect workers from exposure to beryllium.

It finalized and issued the regulations in January, but the regulations were put on hold pending further study on order from President Trump.

After fewer than five months of study, OSHA drafted new regulations and announced in June that the public had until August 28 to submit written comments on the proposed regulations.

The new regulations kept many of the worker protections contained in the original regulations.

For example, the new regulations retained the same maximum allowable exposure levels–0.2 micro grams per cubic meter average per work day–as the original regulations.

But the new regulations exempted the shipbuilding and construction industries from other important protections.

For example, companies in the shipbuilding and construction industries will no longer be required to provide medical monitoring to workers who work with products containing beryllium.

Medical monitoring is important because  there are no safe levels of beryllium exposure.

Because of the laws governing occupational safety and health regulations, OSHA can’t ban exposure to beryllium; it can only minimize exposure to it.

In the absence of a complete ban, monitoring worker exposure is essential because early detection of lung problems caused by beryllium can minimize its damage.

In the shipbuilding industry, substances containing beryllium are used in abrasive blasting operations to clean surfaces of ship hulls that need to be painted.

The proposed new rules will also exempt the shipbuilding and construction industries from

  • measuring beryllium levels at work,
  • providing safety training to workers exposed to beryllium, and
  • keeping records about its use on the job.

Rep. Robert Scott, a Democrat who represents Newport News, criticized the exemptions proposed by OSHA.

OSHA’s proposed new rules, wrote Scott in a letter to the Department of Labor, “has created two classes of workers exposed to beryllium–greater protections for those in  general industry and inferior protections for those employed in construction and (shipbuilding),” wrote Scott.

When OSHA first proposed the exemptions in June, Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH) also criticized OSHA’s exemption.

“No matter where they work, US workers deserve protection from exposure to hazardous–and potentially lethal–toxic materials,” said Martinez.

“They need the same protections as other workers–including monitoring and assessing exposure to potential harm,” continued Martinez.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, also criticized the exemption when it was proposed in June and blamed the Trump administration for taking a backward step on worker safety to appease corporate special interests.

“The result will be more debilitating lung diseases, cancers, and deaths for workers who are exposed to this highly toxic substance,” said Owens.

Even though the public comment period for the proposed exemption ended August 28, USW wants OSHA to hold public hearings on the proposal before it becomes final.

Local 8888 forwarded the petition to the USW headquarters in Pittsburg, which will then use the petition to convince OSHA to hold public hearings.

USW “will use the public hearings to make a strong case for shipbuilders to be covered by the new federal rule,” said Local 8888 in a message to members.

The overwhelming response to the petition by union members shows that safety concerns are “a big deal” to workers at the shipyard, said the union.


Unions seek a bigger role in DuPont’s safety program

Two union leaders have written a letter to DuPont and Chemours urging two companies to act on their publicly stated concern for workplace safety by allowing union safety experts to make regular visits to their chemical production facilities to help “identify and correct hazardous conditions.”

The unions said that unlike other employers for whom their members work, DuPont and Chemours have been unwilling to work with union health and safety experts to help improve process safety at their plants.

Earlier this year the US Chemical Safety Board reported that “complex process-related accidents with tragic results are taking place across the country at companies of all sizes” and cited three accidents at DuPont facilities.

The most recent accident took place in 2014 at a DuPont chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas where four workers died after inhaling methyl mercaptan, a toxic chemical used in the production of pesticides, that had leaked into a work area.

“We are writing out of deep concern for safety at DuPont’s current plants and in the former DuPont plants spun off July 1 into Chemours,” begins the letter signed by Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW), and Frank Cyphers, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Council (ICWUC).

The USW members work at DuPont and Chemour plants in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York; Edgemoor. Delaware; and Deepwater, New Jersey.

ICWUC members work at DuPont and Chemours plants in Parlin, New Jersey and LaPorte.

“It’s clear that there are very serious safety problems at DuPont and Chemours,” said Cyphers. “It’s critical that the two companies work in good faith with their employees and the unions representing them.”

“We have close relationships on safety and health with many employers,” said Gerard. “But in the past DuPont has rejected any involvement by union safety and health professionals. We have the right to represent our members on safety and health. We can do that through OSHA complaints and Labor Board charges, but we would greatly prefer to do that by working together on the basis of mutual respect.”

In addition to the fatal accident at LaPorte, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) cited two other accidents at DuPont that were caused by lax process safety measures.

One took place in 2010 at DuPont’s Buffalo facility where a welding spark ignited flammable vapors in a chemical storage tank causing an explosion that sent molten steel shooting through the air. Fortunately no one was killed.

CSB found that DuPont had not properly isolated the tank where the chemicals were stored and didn’t use proper gas detection units.

Another 2010 accident took place at a DuPont plant in Belle, West Virginia where a banded steel hose ruptured releasing toxic phosgene into the air killing one worker.

The safety board’s report found that the hose that ruptured was made from inferior and less expensive materials and hadn’t been replaced at the scheduled replacement time.

CSB also found that DuPont had not installed proper ventilation or alarm systems in the area where phosgene was stored.

At DuPont’s LaPorte facility, CSB also found that the ventilation system had been improperly installed and that it was designed poorly. The poor ventilation system allowed the deadly toxic leak into a work area. In addition, the ventilation fans weren’t working and there weren’t enough oxygen masks for rescue workers.

In an opinion piece appearing in the Houston Chronicle, Rena Steinzor, an expert on workplace safety law, called DuPont’s leak prevention and response in LaPorte, “shockingly inept.”

DuPont’s safety problems have come during a time when the company has been under pressure from private equity firms like Trian Management to create more shareholder value.

In response to this pressure, DuPont announced in 2014 that it would embark on a cost cutting campaign that is expected to achieve $1 billion a year in cost savings by 2019.

It’s unlikely that top DuPont executives told local facility managers to scrimp on safety to cut costs, but the temptation to forego maintenance and cut back on process safety can be great when excessively high cost cuts are demanded by managers’ bosses.

DuPont’s cost cutting culture may also explain why the company has been reluctant to work with union safety experts to make the company’s plants safer.

While DuPont remains reluctant to cooperate with unions on workplace safety issues, it has been much more obliging to its shareholders.

Last year, the company announced that it had authorized $5 billion to buy back stock from investors. Since then, the company has spent $2 billion on stock buy backs and said that it will continue to pursue its buy back program aggressively.

Oil workers strike for safe refineries continues at some locations

Striking oil workers on March 23 held a candlelight vigil to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the BP oil refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas that killed 15 workers.

On the same day, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued statements saying that ten years after the deadly explosion, companies that own the refineries aren’t doing enough to make refineries safe.

While the United Steelworkers (USW) and Shell Oil reached an agreement on a National Oil Bargaining Agreement, some oil companies have balked at agreeing to it and others have not been able to reach an agreement with their local unions on local issues.

As a result, the oil workers strike for safe refineries continues at five refineries.

The Marathon Oil refinery in Texas City is one of the refineries where workers are still on strike.

Marathon now owns the refinery where the century’s deadliest refinery explosion happened in 2005. At the time, the refinery was owned and operated by BP.

On Monday night, 150 striking Marathon workers marched from their union hall to the refinery. When they arrived, the names of the workers killed in the explosion were read out loud, and as each one was read, a cross with the worker’s name was planted in the ground.

The crosses were a memorial to the dead and a reminder to all about the dangerous conditions inside the refinery.

When the vigil ended, they left the crosses behind.

Before dawn the next morning, Marathon had the crosses removed.

The removal of the crosses by Marathon is symbolic.

Marathon Oil “is attempting to roll back many of the health and safety improvements that were implemented in the aftermath of the explosion,” reads a statement by USW Local 13-1, the Marathon workers’ union. “Marathon management has also failed to follow the rest of the oil refining industry in agreeing to processes to address worker fatigue and training for workers performing routine maintenance.”

Marathon workers in Catlettsburg, Kentucky also remain on strike.

Dave Martin, vice president of USW Local 8-719 in Catlettsburg told WOWK TV News that safety issues remain the sticking point to reaching an agreement with the company.

One of the safety issues on which the two remain far apart is the use of temporary contract workers, who have limited safety training.

“We have a provision in our contract if they lay off people, they can’t contract work out,” Martin said. “They want to do that and that’s one of the main parts of our contract.”

In addition to the two Marathon refineries, the Lyondell Basell refinery in Pasadena, Texas, the Husky Energy/BP refinery in Toledo, Ohio, and the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana remain on strike.

BP, which owns a 50 percent share in the Husky refinery in Toledo, wants to restrict their workers’ ability to bargain over local issues, including safety issues.

BP told the Chicago Tribune that it wants more “flexibility” to implement changes during the life of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Dave Danko, president of USW Local 7-1, the Whiting BP workers’ union, said that BP is taking a page out of Wisconsin Governor’s Scott Walker playbook by trying to curtail its workers collective bargaining rights.

BP’s attempt to reduce worker participation in ensuring refinery safety by limiting collective bargaining rights on local issues appears to contradict recommendations made by CSB for improving refinery safety.

In its reports on the BP explosion and two subsequent serious incidents at other refineries, CSB recommended more worker and union participation in safety decisions, not less as BP is proposing.

In its report on the Texas City explosion, CSB urged the local union to “work with BP to establish a joint program that promotes reporting, investigating, and analyzing incidents, near-misses, process upsets, and major plant hazards without fear of retaliation.”

In its report on a 2010 explosion at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington that killed seven workers, CSB recommended “an increased role for workers in management of process safety” and the formation of safety committees composed equally of union members and management that have real authority to deal with safety problems.

In its report on a 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California that injured four workers and sent thousands of nearby residents to hospitals seeking treatment for breathing problems, CSB recommended that workers be allowed to stop work when they spotted safety hazards without fear of company retaliation.

On the tenth anniversary of the BP explosion, CSB said that there still exists a lax safety culture at US refineries. To improve refinery safety, CSB is recommending “more robust regulatory oversight with greater worker involvement and public participation.”

OSHA also issued a statement on the tenth anniversary of the BP explosion. According to Jordan Barab, writing on the US Department of Labor blog, the explosions and fires that followed the BP explosion were preventable and “each repeated a lesson that the industry should have already learned.”

Despite the rhetoric of oil companies like BP and Marathon, refinery safety remains problematic, which is why the strikes continue.

The title of a flyer announcing USW Local 13’s March 23 candlelight vigil at the Marathon refinery gate sums up the attitude of the strikers. “Mourn the Dead–Fight Like Hell for the Living,” it reads.

Sherwin Alumina lockout gambles with safety and financial future

United Steelworkers is asking the public to support 450 locked out workers at the Sherwin Alumina refinery near Corpus Christi, Texas by signing a petition urging the company to end its lockout.

“For the past five months, members of USW Local 235A have been locked out of their jobs at Sherwin Alumina (for) resisting the company’s unnecessary demands for deep cuts in pay and benefits for members and retirees,” reads a statement by the union announcing the petition drive.

The union said that the lockout is putting safety and the company’s bottom line at risk.

The Sherwin Alumina plant, owned by Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss mining, manufacturing, and trading conglomerate, refines bauxite into alumina, the main ingredient in aluminum.

In September, 98 percent of Local 235A members voted to reject the company’s last, best, and final offer for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The company’s offer would have eliminated pensions for new hires, frozen pensions of current employees, increased health care costs for workers and retirees, and cut worker pay by changing overtime rules.

After rejecting the offer, the union proposed that negotiations continue.

But on October 11 as a shift change was about to begin, workers were told that they were being locked out and escorted out of the plant by security personnel.

Despite the rigors of a long lockout, Local 235A members remain determined to win a fair contract that recognizes the important role that they play in creating wealth out of raw ore and dangerous chemicals.

We’re standing strong,” said Jesse Green, a member of the union bargaining team to KIII TV News. “We’re willing to stay here as long as it takes to get a fair and equitable contract.”

USW in January filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the lockout is illegal.

“The company has repeatedly and unlawfully intimidated, threatened and discriminated against its own workers all in an effort to divide the union,” said Ruben Garza, USW District 13 vice president.

Garza also said that the company has refused to bargain in good faith.

During the lockout, Sherwin Alumina has tried to maintain production by hiring replacement workers through a temporary hiring agency.

Hiring temporary workers in a plant where dangerous chemicals are combined under pressure at high temperatures with bauxite ore is a dangerous gamble.

“Bauxite is made into alumina in a series of digesters and other large vessels that operate at high temperatures and pressures. The process uses large amounts of hot sodium hydroxide, a highly caustic and corrosive chemical,” reads a USW report on safety at Sherwin Alumina.

The report says that Kaiser Aluminum made a similar wager in 1999 when it hired temps to replace locked out workers at its alumina refinery in Gramercy, Louisiana.

The result was a catastrophe. An explosion caused by human error ripped through the refinery injuring 29 workers.

According to a report on the explosion by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, inexperienced temporary workers didn’t know what to do when a power failure caused a dangerous pressure buildup in the digesters.

USW reports that safety conditions at the Sherwin Alumina refinery have deteriorated since Glencore bought the refinery in 2007.

In 2006, the year before Glencore purchased the refinery from Reynolds Aluminum, there were four inspections by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) because of health and safety complaints. The inspections resulted in 9 citations.

In 2014, there were 132 inspections resulting in 76 citations.

While the lockout has been hard on workers, it has also caused problems for the company’s bottom line.

USW in a statement about the lockout said that Sherwin Alumina’s revenue declined by $37 million during the second half of 2014, 14 percent below the first half and 25 percent below revenue for the second half of 2013.

During the lockout, production has fallen by 22 percent.

The company criticized USW for releasing financial information on the impact of the lockout, but so far has not provided any information about its financial performance during the lockout.

“Had Sherwin Alumina not lost 120,000 metric tons of production due to its illegal lockout, it would have reported $40 million more in revenue and $7 million more in operating profits,” said Garza.

Ben Lilienfeld, USW District 13 sub-district director added that the company’s strong performance before the lockout began shows that it can more than afford the cost structure of the current collective bargaining agreement.

“Sherwin’s profitability for the year also stands in stark contrast to the company’s claims that it needs to eliminate retiree health care benefits, eliminate scheduled overtime pay, and limit pension coverage to position the company for the future,” said Lilienfeld.

Union and Shell reach a tentative agreement; strike continues until agreement is ratified

The United Steelworkers (USW) announced on March 12 that the union and Shell Oil Company have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that will set the pattern for wages, benefits, and safety improvements at oil refineries where USW members work.

USW represents 30,000 oil workers at 65 refineries and related facilities in the US.

About 7,000 oil workers at 15 oil company plants have been on strike since February 1. The union said that the strike will continue until union members at the struck facilities have a chance to review the agreement and ratify it.

USW said that the tentative agreement meets its bargaining goals.

One of those goals was to improve safety at US oil refineries where during the last five years, 27 workers have died on the job and hundreds have been injured.

In praising the new tentative agreement, Leo Gerard, USW international president, said that the solidarity of the strikers had won “vast improvements in safety and staffing.”

Details about these improvements have not been made public, but according to one union official, the union will now have a voice in setting staffing levels and ensuring that workers are adequately trained.

“The new agreement calls for joint review on the local level of future, craft worker staffing needs,” said Tom Conway, USW vice president. “Included are hiring plans to be developed in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.”

Staffing levels, adequate training, and refinery safety are all intertwined.

In 2005, an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City killed 15 workers and injured 180 more. The US Chemical Safety Board blamed the explosion on worker fatigue caused by inadequate staffing levels and a lack of effective training.

In 2013, a fire at an Exxon Mobile facility in Beaumont, Texas killed two and injured ten when a temporary worker with little training used a torch to cut away a stuck bolt on a vessel filled with volatile hydrocarbons.

Oil companies, instead of hiring enough permanent staff to meet production goals have been relying, instead, on excessive overtime, which leads to excessive fatigue.

Brent Petit, president of USW Local 13-750, whose members work in Shell facilities in Norco and Convent, Louisiana, told the St. Charles Herald Guide that it is not uncommon for refinery workers to work between 500 and 1,000 hours of overtime a year, and they often work 60 or more a week.

Oil companies also are not replacing experienced workers who retire or quit; instead, the companies are using temporary workers, and as the fire that took two lives in Beaumont showed, these temporary workers often don’t receive proper training.

Whether the new tentative agreement actually improves safety will depend largely on whether workers can continue to muster the kind of solidarity that they showed during the strike.

Although Shell did not openly encourage workers to break the strike, it did try to weaken the union by sowing discontent. For example, in a letter to strikers, the company tried to undermine the union by claiming that the company was negotiating in good faith on safety issues.

But the tactic didn’t work.

Reuters reports that at the Shell facilities in Deer Park, Texas fewer than 10 percent of the strikers returned to work and many of those who did so were not union members to begin with.

The Lake Charles Herald Guide reported that at the Shell facilities in Louisiana even a lower percentage of strikers left the picket lines and returned to work.

Even though the two sides have reached a tentative agreement, the strike won’t be over until union members ratify the agreement.

Locals that are on strike will also have a chance to bargain on local issues, and members will have a chance to sign off on any local issues that might be included in the agreement.

According to USW, employers at refineries that weren’t on strike will likely offer the same terms that are in the tentative agreement with Shell, and workers at these refineries will have a chance to bargain on local issues as well. When the bargaining is complete, then workers at the refineries not on strike will vote on the new contract.

Oil workers to Big Oil: “Safe refineries save lives”

Marching behind a banner reading “Safe Refineries Save Lives,” more than 300 striking oil refinery workers on March 6 marched through the streets of downtown Houston.

Their destination was Shell Oil’s Houston headquarters on Louisiana Street. When they arrived, they surged onto the steps leading up to the main entrance and tried to enter the building.

Houston Police Officers intercepted them. After a discussion between the police and the strikers, the strikers returned to the sidewalks where they chanted, “What do we want? A fair contract. When do we want it? Now.”

The  workers are seeking a new collective bargaining agreement that includes commonsense and enforceable safety improvements that will make refineries less dangerous for workers and people who live nearby.

“We have good jobs, but we want to come home safe,” said Lee Medley, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-1 to KHOU News.

Workers are not the only ones to raise concerns about safety at US refineries. The US Chemical Safety Board, which investigates refinery accidents, has identified the absence of a corporate culture of safety as a key factor in recent explosions and fires at US refineries.

Local 13-1 and other USW locals have been on strike since February 1 at 15 oil refineries and related facilities in the US.

The strike began after negotiations between USW and Shell Oil Company over a National Oil Bargaining Pattern Agreement broke down.

USW’s membership includes 30,000 workers at 65 oil refineries and related facilities in the US.

Shell represents Big Oil in the negotiations, which will establish a pattern for wages, benefits, and safety conditions at all refineries where USW members work.

Besides Shell, workers are striking facilities owned by  Tesoro, BP, Marathon, and Husky Energy.

On the same day that USW members were demonstrating at Shell, hundreds more were demonstrating at the Marathon refinery in Texas City, about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

The Texas City Marathon refinery is the site of a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers, injured 180 more, and caused an emergency warning to be issued to nearby residents.

At the time of the explosion, the refinery was owned by BP.

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) reported that a lack of a “serious safety culture” kept BP from taking action that could have prevented the explosion.

CSB also said that worker fatigue, a major safety hazard that USW is seeking to address in its contract negotiations, also contributed to the explosion.

Another explosion that killed seven workers occurred in 2010 at a Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington.

The CSB report on the explosion cites the lack of safety culture as a major cause of the blast. According to the report, “Refinery management had normalized the occurrences of hazardous conditions.”

In 2012, a major fire broke at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. Luckily no one was killed, but six workers were injured and a level three safety warning was issued to nearby residents.

A noxious vapor resulting from the fire caused 15,000 people in nearby towns to seek treatment at hospitals for respiratory problems.

Once again the CSB report on the fire cited the lack of a corporate safety culture as a major cause of the fire.

Among other things, the report found that workers were reluctant to use their Stop Work authority when they discovered serious safety problems because they feared retribution by management.

This year, there have been three explosions at oil refineries.

The most recent took place on February 18 at the Exxon Mobile refinery in Torrance, California.

The explosion registered as a magnitude of a 1.4 earthquake, writes Antonia Juhasz in the Los Angeles Times and sent an irritating dust into the nearby community.

The Torrance explosion is according to Juhasz, “the latest reminder of the very real dangers petroleum refineries and terminals pose for their workers, their neighbors, the air we breathe, and the climate we share.”

Furthermore, writes Juhasz, “For nearly a decade, the industry’s leading watchdogs have warned that American refineries are operating with shocking disregard for known risks and are failing to adhere to existing regulations, which are also dangerously insufficient.”

Negotiations between Shell and USW resume on March 9. In a message to members, USW negotiators said that they are hopeful that the five-week old strike will convince Shell to listen to the workers’ safety concerns with an open mind.

In a message to the public, USW said, “We’re fighting for life-saving improvements to address fatigue and other commonsense measures to make oil refineries and chemical plants safer,” and urged people to sign its petition of support.

Oil workers’ strike for safe work and communities grows

Workers at four more oil plants have joined the US oil worker strike for safer work and safer communities.

The new strike sites include the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, the largest refinery in the US, and three other facilities: two Motiva refineries in Convent, Louisiana and Norco, Louisiana, and Shell Chemical in Norco.

Motiva is a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Refining, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco.

Shell is the company representing Big Oil in its contract negotiations with the United Steelworkers (USW), whose members include 30,000 US oil workers.

When an agreement is reached, it will establish a pattern on wages, benefits, and safety conditions for all refinery work covered by collective bargaining agreements with USW.

“We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties,” said Tom Conway, USW vice president. “But inadequate staffing levels, worker fatigue, and other important safety issues must be addressed (by the company).”

According to a USW message to members, Shell has ignored the union’s proposals to reduce workplace fatigue, a well-documented safety hazard.

Shell has also ignored union proposals that would give workers more control over protecting their safety and the safety of those living in nearby communities, and it continues to insists on relying on ill-trained, temporary contractors to perform dangerous maintenance work.

Safety is the union’s major concern in these negotiations because refineries are a dangerous place to work. Toxic and reactive chemicals are combined at extreme temperatures and high pressure. Mistakes or faulty equipment, such as leaking pipes, can lead to deadly explosions or vapor leaks.

In the past seven years, 27 oil workers have died on the job as a result of safety lapses.

In the past eight years, 349 fires have been reported at US oil refineries and related facilities.

At a recent rally in Texas City, Texas, Leslie Dillon, the wife of a striking oil worker held up a homemade sign that summed what the strike is all about. “I would rather see him (Dillon’s husband) on the picket line than dead,” read Dillon’s sign.

A February 18 explosion at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, California refinery  demonstrates how dangerous oil refinery work can be for workers and for those who live nearby.

The explosion injured four workers and spewed chemicals and potentially harmful dust into the atmosphere.

The Torrance Daily Breeze reports that when the explosion took place, nearby residents said they felt the ground shake. After the explosion, city officials instructed children at 12 nearby schools and nearby residents to stay indoors.

At a town hall meeting on February 20, about 200 residents confronted Exxon Mobil about its response to the explosion and asked what chemicals had been released into the atmosphere. The company declined to answer.

Residents also complained that Exxon Mobil did not sound a refinery siren that would have warned them to go inside because dangerous vapors may have been released into the air.

“I’ve counted on that warning for 53 years,” said resident Jean Severance, a nearby resident to the Torrance Daily Breeze. “What happened? If we had heard that siren, we would have stayed inside.”

The Torrance explosion is the second US refinery explosion in 2015.

Another explosion and fire took place in January at the Husky Energy refinery in Lima, Ohio.

After the Torrance explosion, Gary Beevers, USW vice president, who is leading the USW national oil bargaining team, reiterated that the striking oil workers are fighting for improved safety measures that will protect workers and residents of nearby communities.

“We believe that improved safety measures (at refineries) can significantly reduce explosions and fires at these dangerous facilities,” said Beevers.

The expansion of the oil workers strike means that 6,600 workers at 15 refineries and related facilities are now on strike.

The latest expansion of the strike for safety came after Shell made its seventh contract offer, which the USW rejected for the seventh time.

“The new offer fails to improve safety in an enforceable way,” said the USW in a statement after it rejected the company’s offer.

The oil workers’ strike is now entering its fourth week.

To help oil workers meet expenses during the strike, USW is asking supporters to contribute to the workers’ Unfair Labor Practices Strike and Defense Fund.

“USW oil workers have forced into an unfair labor practices strike,” reads a statement by the union. “The workers are fighting to secure fair contracts that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities. Your donations will help support these brave workers and their families.”