Back refinery workers’ fight over lockout by Marathon

and Helen Meyers
March 8, 2021

ST. PAUL PARK, Minn. — The fight of 200 locked-out Teamsters Local 120 members against attacks by Marathon Petroleum — the largest refinery company in the U.S. — is now in its fifth week. Solidarity and support is critical, and it continues to come in. Keep it coming!

Visiting the picket line Feb. 19 and 20, we met KerryJo Felder, an organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. She pulled her car up to the pickets and served pots of steaming hot jambalaya to those walking the line. “I’m a Teamster too, and these are my boys. I am here to support them,” she told the Militant.

Workers said she comes out once a day, seven days a week, bringing a hot meal.

Another time we visited a small dump truck pulled up to one of the picket lines and dropped off a big load of firewood. The pickets told us the driver was a former contract worker at the refinery who now works at a construction company and knew the dangerous conditions they faced inside. As he left, he said, “I’ll be back with more.”

The two key issues in the standoff are safety for workers on the job and in the surrounding community and workers’ opposition to the bosses’ demand to use more nonunion contract labor.

“As workers, we all need the support of other working people to win our battles against the bosses,” Chris Pennock, a shop steward in the National Association of Letter Carriers Minneapolis branch, told the Militant. He’s been on the picket line a number of times. “One thing union members can do is to speak up to our union brothers and sisters in support of strikes that are going on. Solidarity is the road forward.” His local has contributed $500 to the locked-out workers’ fund.

Kyle Edwards, a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, which organizes clerical workers at the University of Minnesota, told the Militant he and several other union members had participated in the 70-car caravan held the previous week in support of the refinery workers.

“I went because I want to show the locked-out workers standing in the freezing cold they have support from workers across the state,” he said.

Local 3800 President Cherrene Horazuk spoke at a Feb. 6 support rally for the Teamsters. “The pandemic has laid bare Marathon’s corporate greed for all to see. Workers are risking their lives while the big companies are raking in profits, showing no concern for workers’ safety, especially if they can turn a faster buck,” she said. “But when workers stand together, they have power to turn things around. Teamsters 120 members are setting an example for the labor movement as a whole.”

Tylor Sardenson, a locked-out worker, told us on the picket line, “We really haven’t been getting any coverage from local media. One of the platforms we’ve been using to share information is Facebook, but they’ve started editing some of our posts or wouldn’t let us post at all. They’re censoring us. Everyone should be able to use these platforms. Agree with him or don’t, but it’s not right what they did to Donald Trump. They shouldn’t be able to shut down anyone.”

“The company is making the workers’ pay for the pandemic and its losses,” picket Steve Sklavenitis said. “When the government gave the company money to support its ‘essential workers,’ the company kept it for their own pockets and continued its attacks on the workers.”

Sklavenitis was referring to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was promoted as a measure to provide emergency relief from damage wrought by COVID-19. But Marathon took $411 million in rebates over losses from before the pandemic.

The Teamsters picket 24/7 and welcome all who want to help. If you can, join them and bring some solidarity. Send messages of support and contributions to the lockout fund at Teamsters Local 120, 9422 Ulysses St. NE, Blaine, MN 55434.