ST. PAUL PARK, Minn. — Teamsters Local 120 members are in their fifth month picketing 24/7 at the Marathon Petroleum oil refinery here. They were locked out by the bosses Jan. 22 after a one day strike in a fight for safety, both on the job and for those who live in the surrounding community.
In the face of court rulings that restrict picketing to six people at the refinery gate, workers have organized informational pickets at Speedway gas stations — also owned by Marathon — in the “Burn Zone,” a 19-mile radius around the refinery at risk in the case of an explosion or fire. The refinery uses hydrofluoric acid, a highly volatile and toxic chemical, that would pose a lethal threat to the 1.7 million inhabitants in this zone. Marathon Petroleum is the largest oil refiner in the U.S.
“They call it a financial strike, but to us it’s a safety strike,” Dave Serres, who has worked there for over 37 years, told the Militant. His father worked at the refinery before him.
Serres said that Nick Gunter, one of his co-workers, died in the plant in 2007. Serres was part of the response team that searched for his body. “I never want to look for a body again. That was my worst day on the job,” he said.
After the accident, workers pressed refinery bosses to step up attention to safety, and they said they would. Serres thought they were sincere, until they sold the refinery in 2010. Marathon Petroleum acquired it again in 2018.
Serres said he realized the bosses’ safety talk was just for the record. “We demand safety. I’ve been injured, I’ve seen others injured, I’ve seen people die,” he said.
He was thrilled to see the photo in the Militant of Rebecca Williamson and her co-workers at Walmart in Seattle. They had raised over $300 for the locked-out Teamsters. Williamson visited their picket line in February. Serres said he’ll copy the photo box, laminate it, and put it up in the union picket trailers.
“I hope to get the chance to repay them someday,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of outpour in response. Our fight, this is just pebbles, an avalanche is coming.”
Matt Foss, who has worked as a fire mechanic in the emergency response team at the St. Paul Park refinery for 22 years, helps organize the informational pickets at Speedways. “The response we get is mostly good. People ask us what we’re doing there, and we tell them: Marathon is putting employees at risk to cut their costs,” he said.
“We’re not stepping down until there’s a full-time fire department and experienced workers in the refinery. We’ve lost folks, and that’s what happens when people get put into jobs they weren’t trained for,” Foss said. “A refinery is not the place to cut costs.”
The Teamsters welcome all who want to join the Speedway pickets. Send support messages to Teamsters Local 120, 9422 Ulysses St. NE, Blaine, MN 55434.