On the Picket Line

Locked-out Marathon workers mark 100 days on picket line

By Helen Meyers
May 17, 2021

ST. PAUL PARK, Minn. — Some 200 members of Teamsters Local 120 locked-out by Marathon Petroleum here marked their 100th day on the picket line April 30. They set up informational pickets at different Speedway gas stations, owned by Marathon, in a 19-mile radius from the refinery. This is referred to as the “Burn Zone,” home to 1.5 million people who would be threatened by any potentially lethal disaster involving hydrofluoric acid used in the plant.

The bosses locked out workers after they held a one-day strike Jan. 21 over safety, subcontracting of jobs and job combinations.

“They’re putting corporate greed over community safety,” Matt Foss, who has worked as a fire mechanic in the Emergency Response Team at the refinery for 22 years and now organizes the informational pickets, told the Militant.

Laborers International Union of North America Minnesota and North Dakota issued a report in April: “What They Don’t Know: An Analysis of Worker and Public Safety Hazards at Marathon Petroleum’s St. Paul Park Refinery.” This document exposing the dangers to both workers and those who live around the refinery received widespread press coverage in the local and national media.

“These workers cited management decisions to eliminate safety positions, and to replace local contractors and workforce with decades of experience at the facility, in an apparent effort to cut operating costs,” the 23-page report says. It includes interviews with workers about unsafe practices in the plant and what’s at stake in the bosses’ lockout.

“The report indicates that Marathon is playing Russian roulette with the lives of its workers, the residents surrounding the refinery, and the Mississippi River ecosystem,” Chris Parson, president of Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters, said in a statement issued April 25. He says that the Cottage Grove fire department, the closest to the refinery, is not equipped to deal with a chemical spill or accident of that magnitude. “The firefighters would just be focused on evacuation during a large incident and letting the fire burn out, as during the Husky fire.” That 2018 explosion at the Husky oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, injured 36 workers.

“We are the workers who have the training, skills, and familiarity to run the Marathon Petroleum refinery,” Teamsters Local 120 says. “But because we demanded that Marathon use our skilled labor instead of out-of-town contract workers, corporate executives locked us out from our jobs in January. Without us there, our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our entire community is in the chemical burn zone of some of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet.”

Solidarity messages and donations to the strike fund can be sent to Teamsters Local 120, 9422 Ulysses St. NE, Blaine, MN 55434.