Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:00 am, in From the USW International President
The United Steelworkers would not take “shut” for an answer.
Steelworkers demonstrated, petitioned, held press conferences, conducted candlelight vigils, demanded studies, pestered lawmakers, organized meetings and ultimately helped save about 1,200 good-paying refinery jobs, create 1,000 construction jobs and produce 200 new permanent jobs.
Those jobs are at two of three Philadelphia refineries given death sentences last fall. The Steelworkers sought reprieves for all three. The score so far: two preserved, one more to save.
In a conference call last week to announce that a joint venture between Sunoco and The Carlyle Group would preserve and expand the largest of the three refineries, officials acknowledged the Steelworkers’ efforts as crucial to the deal. It’s hard for Fox-News-watching-Tea-Party-saluting-rabid-right-wingers to hear that a union is a job creator. Especially when those words come from the mouths of CEOs and private equity partners. But that’s what they said. And that’s what actually happened.
This saga started sadly last fall. ConocoPhillips and Sunoco announced they would close their three Eastern Pennsylvania refineries – Marcus Hook, Philadelphia and Trainer. Processing expensive light, sweet crude oil, the three were losing money.
ConocoPhillips closed Trainer in September. Sunoco closed Marcus Hook in December. And Sunoco said it would shut the Philadelphia refinery if a buyer weren’t found by July. That would be a total of 2,200 workers out of jobs at the three plants, 1,200 of them represented by the USW. The Steelworkers refused to accept that as inevitable.
The union launched what would become a massive campaign to save the three refineries. Steelworkers enlisted support from lawmakers who initially weren’t paying attention. This included Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, whose mansion was the site of a USW candlelight vigil; congressional representatives, subjected to relentless USW phone calls, and the White House, whose top economic advisor heard Steelworker pleas.
The USW contention that loss of the refineries was too economically devastating to ignore got empirical support from the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. It calculated that if the three refineries closed, job losses could reach 36,000 and cities, school districts and the state could lose $560 million in tax revenues. The U.S. Department of Energy warned that the closures could cause gasoline and fuel oil shortfalls and price spikes.