As United Steelworkers, we demand high-safety standards to protect our workers and our neighborhoods. We have thousands of workers employed at local refineries that require specialized skills to ensure safety is maintained at all times, and they not only meet these safety standards, they exceed them.
We stand in opposition to last-minute legislation that is currently being jammed through the Legislature. Senate Bill 54, authored by Sen. Loni Hancock and co-authored by Assemblymembers Roger Hernandez, Susan Bonilla, Nancy Skinner, Das Williams and Roger Dickinson, is nothing more than a power play that will jeopardize worker and community safety while forcing up to 5,000 workers to lose their jobs.
SB 54 is ostensibly designed to establish a training and certification program for workers that work in high-hazard industrial facilities, but the reality is very different.
This legislation has been attempted in other venues and it has been continually rejected as it does not improve safety -- it ousts known, skilled, qualified workers who need a steady paycheck to provide for their families and put a roof over their heads.
This reckless policymaking attempt distracts from the real issue by highlighting several incidents that have occurred at high-hazard industrial facilities. However, the facts prove that those incidents were not due to worker safety issues. The bottom line is that this is a jurisdictional issue that will put about 60 percent of our workers into unemployment lines while increasing the risk to public safety.
The legislation goes so far as to state that current workers are not skilled enough, even though our industry has a proven, outstanding safety record. In fact, many of our workers have spent their entire careers working in refineries, and they have had intensive safety training. Yet under this legislation, they would not be qualified to do the same work they've been doing for decades, but workers who have never worked at a refinery will be.
The guise of this legislation is the idea that a new so-called safety curriculum, which does not exist, coupled with current trade apprenticeship programs will improve safety at refineries. However, the reality is that our workers far exceed the standards of existing trade apprenticeship programs due to their extensive refinery-specific, on-the-job experience and training.
Along with their craft-specific experience, they also participate in additional rigorous, refinery-specific safety training.
SB 54 fails to allow equal educational access for nontrade workers and fails to recognize equivalent training programs that currently exist. The legislation will solidify the building trades sole control of all training and certification apprenticeship programs in the state, for the work that USW members currently do, without allowing our represented workers equal access to apprenticeship programs.
What is even more disconcerting is that the legislation calls for all workers at high-hazard facilities to complete this so-called safety curriculum by January 2018. Sounds good -- right?
But looking closely at the legislation, there is a large safety loophole allowing new workers to be eligible to start working at these high-hazard facilities in less than six months -- without any specialized safety training at all.
This means for four years new workers who replaced experienced, trained workers will not have proper safety training. This creates a serious risk within our communities, as refineries are more regulated than most other industries except for nuclear, and our workers, who have specialized skills and have spent their entire careers working at these refineries, will be forced out the door.
Right now, we have strong safety standards in place. We need to keep them. And right now, we have seasoned USW workers in place who know how to keep California refineries safe. We need to keep them.
This is neither the time nor the place for special-interest politics and political games in Sacramento. Safety is too important of an issue. This terrible piece of legislation would shift the focus away from process safety management, and in turn, away from management's responsibility to make decisions that do not negatively impact workers and community members.
SB 54 blames the workers rather than placing the blame where it is deserved and truly lies, upon the shoulders of the people making these life-altering decisions -- the refinery owner-operators.
That is why the USW is strongly opposed to SB 54. It's bad for workers, families and communities, compromises public safety and health, and will cost up to 5,000 Californians their jobs.
Robert LaVenture is director of District 12 of the United Steelworkers.