Union family sticking together as Marathon lockout drags on

 Megan Christner and Amber Marlatt could never put a price on the value of their husbands’ safety at work. So it infuriates them to see their husbands’ employer, the Marathon oil refinery here, do just that.

“It’s his life we’re talking about,” Marlatt said of her husband, Dave. “And Marathon cares more about saving money?

“I’m just blown away that someone could be so selfish.”

Outraged and unreserved, Christner, Marlatt and dozens of other family members and friends took over the Teamsters Local 120 picket line outside the refinery March 11, showing the depth of community support behind nearly 200 union members who have been locked out by Marathon since Jan. 22.

“I stand behind him 1,000%,” Christner said of her husband, Jason, an operator at Marathon. “I would be out here every night if I could, every day if I could. I told him do not back down. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe.”

What Christner and his fellow Teamsters believe is that Marathon’s contract demands, which the company has clung to in more than 24 bargaining sessions since November, would make workers inside the refinery less safe from workplace accidents – and put nearby communities at risk.

Members of Local 120’s bargaining team say the company is dead set on shaking up staffing at the facility. Management wants to replace some skilled, highly trained, experienced union members with workers from lowest-bidder subcontractors, including firms from outside Minnesota.

That’s a concern both for Teamsters and for their loved ones, many of whom already have grown accustomed to worrying about what happens inside the refinery.

Megan Christner said she remembers telling Jason not to apply for a job at the refinery in the first place because of the risks and hazardous materials involved. “Those are thoughts, when he goes to work, that I still have,” she said.

“The company is penny pinching,” Christner added. “They want to save a buck. But this is about lives, about our husbands and our friends and our family members coming home.”

Amber Marlatt said the thought that Dave, an operator at the refinery, would feel less safe working under Marathon’s contract proposals, is “heartbreaking and scary.”

“We have two girls, 4 and 8, and they want their dad to come home,” Amber Marlatt added. “I need him to come home. That’s why we’re not giving up.”

Family members aren’t the only outsiders with a stake in the standoff between Marathon and Local 120 over safety. The refinery is nestled between residential areas of Newport and St. Paul Park, along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Amber Marlatt (L) and Megan Christner

In April 2018 an explosion rocked the Husky Energy refinery in Superior, Wis., and ensuing fires prompted local authorities to evacuate people living nearby. Two dozen people working in the facility were injured.

Among the Teamsters locked out by Marathon in St. Paul Park are several workers trained in fighting chemical fires. Most fire departments in the area focus on training to fight residential fires, union members say, leaving the refinery poorly protected during the lockout – and potentially, if management gets its way in negotiations, for good.

It’s no surprise, then, that the March 11 event drew community members to the picket line, support Christner called “refreshing to see.”

“People are here because this is where they live, and they don’t want to see something potentially bad happen in their community,” she said.

“Marathon is paying all these people to come in from out of state and work during this lockout, paying for their expenses, paying for their hotels. Meanwhile, their loyal workers are out here on the line, fighting for the community’s safety. People appreciate that.”

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