Marathon Refinery Employees Denied Access After Union Offers To Unconditionally Return to Work While Talks Continue

Operations and maintenance workers at Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in St. Paul Park went on strike last Thursday. Members of Teamsters Local 120 say they are taking a stand not just for good jobs, but also for the safety of their community.

Teamsters report that Union employees offered to return to work last week. In a move the Union calls astounding and incredibly reckless, Employees were denied entry when they went to work. 

The St. Paul Park refinery utilizes hydrofloric acid, the same chemical which necessitated the evacuation of Superior WI after the explosion at the Husky refinery in 2018. According to the Union, they offered the unconditional return specifically to minimize the risk of accident with the toxic chemical.  

“Hydroflouric acid is deadly, plain and simple. Marathon is gambling with the lives of Minnesotans instead of ensuring this facility is as safe as possible. This has been about safety the whole time, and their actions tonight proves that isn’t a priority for Marathon.” Says Teamsters Local 120 Business Agent Scott Kroona.  

Teamsters Local 120 President Tom Erickson put it more bluntly.

“I have been involved in Union negotiations for over 30 years. I have never seen a company do something as reckless as what Marathon did tonight. Their decision could have major consequences to people’s lives. For the sake of everyone I pray they get lucky and it doesn’t.” says Erickson.

At issue in the overall dispute is management’s ability to replace union members with workers from lowest-bidder subcontractors, including firms from outside Minnesota.

“We want a contract that protects jobs where the money goes back into our communities, jobs for people who have an interest in the safety of our community,” Local 120 Business Agent Scott Kroona said. “If somebody comes in from Texas or Indiana, which is what the company wants, their money goes back to Texas or Indiana. And they don’t care about St. Paul Park.”

Local 120 represents nearly 200 workers at the Marathon refinery.

By refusing to bargain over the impact of contract language that would put more subcontracted workers in the facility – impacts like safety risks – Marathon is forcing union members to take a stand for their community, Kroona added.

“We don’t want to happen at St. Paul Park what happened at Superior,” he said. “We absolutely don’t want something like that to happen here, and it absolutely could happen here.”

The union has filed charges of unfair labor practices against Marathon, claiming the company, in 24 negotiating sessions since late November, has bargained in bad faith.

“Marathon never had the intention of reaching a contract from the very beginning,” Kroona said.

Local 120’s previous agreement with Marathon, a three-year pact, expired Dec. 31.

Teamsters who work at the St. Paul Park refinery last went on strike in the summer of 2006.

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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