SBCTC is Actively Engaging News Media In SB 54 Debate

October 8, 2013 - As part of our ongoing efforts to urge Governor Jerry Brown to sign Senate Bill 54, State Building Trades Council President Robbie Hunter is actively engaging with the news media to ensure that the reasons why this important measure is needed are publicized. Following are two examples of our outreach, and the hostile commentaries to which they respond.

First is a column from President Hunter that is currently posted on the Capitol Weekly web site in response to an earlier column with misleading arguments against SB 54 by oil company executive Catherine Reheis-Boyd. Following those columns is President Hunter’s response that has been submitted to the Contra Costa Times in favor of SB 54, followed by that newspaper’s editorial taking the contrary position.

As you can see by the attached articles, there is an ongoing, intensive campaign urging Governor Brown to veto SB 54. The Governor has a deadline of October 13 (this Sunday) to sign or veto bills. We are asking building trades councils, affiliated local unions, district councils, and their international presidents to redouble their efforts to contact the Governor’s office urging him to sign the bill. SB 54 will address the issue of out-of-state, untrained workers undermining wages and benefits, performing shoddy work, and will bring tens of thousands of jobs to California Building Trades workers.

The governor’s contact information is:  Phone: 916-445-2841. Fax: 916-558-3160. Email: Visit and click on “Contact.”

Here is a link to President Hunter’s column at Capitol Weekly’s website:


SB 54 Ensures Refinery Workers are Trained, Skilled, and Safe

By Robbie Hunter | 10/07/13 12:00 AM PST

The commentary by oil executive Catherine Reheis-Boyd attacking Senate Bill 54 badly misstates the contents and the effect of this important refinery safety legislation.  The bill clearly does not, as she wrongly declares, degrade refinery safety. It in fact ensures that workers at dangerous refineries are trained to have the skills to be safe and efficient.

History shows us that oil companies oppose every effort to improve safety at their facilities. In fact when refinery safety was addressed in the Contra Costa County Industrial Safety Ordinance 15 years ago, the Building Trades was leading the call for better standards, while the oil companies fought bitterly against more stringent standards. It’s not surprising then, that they are continuing that fight today by urging a veto of SB 54.

That stands in stark contrast to the distinguished record of this bill’s author, Senator Loni Hancock, who has repeatedly carried measures to improve industrial processes to protect our health, safety, and environment, including blue-collar communities directly adjacent to these sites, where historically, many of our members’ families have lived. In fact, SB 54 is part of a three-bill package carried by Senator Hancock this year to improve refineries.

The Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment’s analysis of the bill states that the author  introduced it because “Under existing law there are no requirements that employees of outside contractors working at chemical manufacturing and processing facilities, including refineries, have a minimum level of skills training, including public safety training. This poses a risk to public health and safety as unskilled and untrained workers may be unfamiliar with the construction work associated with such facilities, general facility operations and emergency plans.”

The analysis continues to explain that the author believes “ensuring that outside contractors that work at chemical refineries have properly trained workers through approved apprenticeship programs will reduce public health and safety risks.”

To address the serious problem of unsafe, untrained workers, the bill would require contractors at dangerous facilities such as refineries to employ a “skilled and trained workforce,” which is defined as on a scale starting at 30, leading to 60 percent journeypersons who have graduated from a state-approved apprenticeship program. The bill applies only to employees of contractors, but not to workers employed by the refineries themselves, whose jobs therefore are placed in no jeopardy whatsoever by SB 54.

Pretending that worker training is unrelated to refinery safety is both naïve and dangerous.  As Governor Brown’s Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety reported: Workers involved in maintenance, represented by building and construction trades unions, reported that training of most maintenance workers (non-refinery employees) is inadequate. They also reported that refineries use mostly contract workers, often from out of state, to conduct maintenance during planned shutdowns of a refinery process (also referred to as turnarounds), and that contract workers have less training and experience and, therefore, are less safe.

That is exactly the problem. The lack of training of workers at these dangerous facilities is making them less safe, to the workers themselves and the surrounding communities.

SB 54 provides the State of California, because of its oversight and input on these state-approved training programs, with certainty on the quality of construction and safety during construction. These are the same California workers that have originally built these refineries and work in the construction industry as a career, building power plants and public works projects to standards that last for a century or more.

The state has a mandate to protect the public and the environment. It also has an interest in ensuring that California residents, who often live in the shadow of these refineries have the opportunity to be trained and productive, enabling businesses to be profitable and driving the state’s economy.   One only needs to look to the recent fire and explosion at an industrial nitrate plant in the state of Texas that killed several facility workers and 13 firefighters at this largely unregulated plant, devastating the local residential community.       

Our workers are in these refineries on a daily basis, working alongside workers who lack basic skills and abilities. SB 54 offers the logical solution: making those workers better trained, and making those facilities more safe, to workers and surrounding communities.  

Anyone who would oppose that is either misinformed, or clearly doesn’t care about safety. That explains why some oil companies want a veto of SB 54, while those who truly care about public health and safety – including the California Medical Association, the League of Conservation Voters, and California Professional Firefighters – are urging Governor Brown to sign it.

Ed's Note: Robbie Hunter is the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California


Opposition column:

Governor eyes refinery safety measure

By Catherine Reheis-Boyd | 10/04/13 12:00 AM PST

As we approach the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to consider bills passed in the 2013 legislative session, many are already taking up the usual punditry on how 2014 session might take shape. However, one of the final bills remaining on the Governor’s desk could prove devastating to community and workplace safety overnight. If signed into law, Senate Bill 54 would severely degrade refinery safety in California while leaving thousands of highly-skilled workers unemployed.

Special interest favors are commonplace enough in Sacramento that we all have a basic understanding of how such a bill might find its way to the Governor’s desk. Yet, in hopes Gov. Brown will see the damage SB 54 might have on public safety and the state’s struggling business climate, I submit to you another unfortunate tale of special interest hijinks in the Capitol.

 A gut-and-amend bill that came to life in the final days of the legislative session, SB 54 claims to improve safety in California’s 14 major refining centers. In reality, the bill does exactly the opposite.

 Last year, Gov. Brown formed an Interagency Refinery Safety Working Group that was tasked with presenting opportunities for safety improvements at California’s refineries. The refining industry joined with a number of public safety experts, maintenance contractors, and Brown administration leaders to share the facts about refinery safety. This included sharing the industry’s self-imposed safety measures such as intensive training for employees and contractors, ongoing review and updates to safety procedures, immediate response to safety concerns, and frequent inspections and upgrades to maintenance equipment.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data shoes that refining is one of the safest industrial activities in the United States, ranking the industry ahead of education, retail, and financial services.

While collaborative work was being done to identify even further safety improvements in California, a trade union was apparently able to convince Senator Loni Hancock to produce last-minute legislation that acted outside of the transparent work being conducted by Governor Brown’s Working Group and the refining industry. SB 54 would make refineries less safe as it would drastically limit the eligible workforce to a single union, the same union that supported SB 54 from its gut-and-amend inception.

While SB 54 mandates who refineries can hire, it simultaneously sends thousands of highly-trained and highly-experienced workers to the unemployment line in favor of workers ill-prepared for work in refineries. This special interest job grab has nothing to do with safety and sets a dangerous precedent that has troubled many employers throughout California. Furthermore, the bill actually decreases safety at refineries and surrounding communities by mandating the hiring of untrained workers, distracting from the progress Governor Brown has made in improving refinery safety programs. Clearly, this proposal was a very bad idea from the beginning.

When the state legislature passed SB 54 in September, California’s business community joined together to ask Governor Brown to veto this flawed legislation. Hundreds of California citizens sent letters to the Governor asking him to stand up for public safety and defend workers throughout California who would be left unemployed by SB 54. Earlier this week, a coalition of business leaders, including myself, signed a similar letter of our own. The SB 54 opposition letter included an alternative already proposed by Gov. Brown’s administration earlier in the year:

Your Interagency Refinery Safety Working Group has identified a number of very specific actions that can and should be taken to ensure refineries and other industrial facilities continue to operate in the safest possible manner while continuing to provide vital fuel supplies to California consumers. The Working Group’s draft report must be considered the foundation upon which to ensure California is providing efficient and effective oversight of industry safety enforcement capacity and oversight. SB 54 is a distraction from the Working Groups efforts and threatens the progress that has been made thus far. 

As the signing deadline approaches, it is clear that anyone who truly cares about California’s public safety, jobs, and floundering business climate opposes SB 54. At the same time, the Governor’s Interagency Refinery Safety Working Group’s proposals should be given a real chance at improving refinery safety in California.  

With safety and jobs at stake, now is not the time to sign special interest legislation. A veto of SB 54 would send the right message to the Legislature that reform should be transparent and enacted into law only when it honestly serves the interest of all Californians. SB 54, like so many before it, is a step backwards California can ill afford.

Ed's Note: Catherine Reheis-Boyd is president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the petroleum industry in California and five other western states.


Response of State Building and Construction Trades Council to Contra Costa Times editorial attacking SB 54:

Your editorial is flatly wrong about Senator Loni Hancock’s Senate Bill 54, which would greatly enhance the safety of refineries and their surrounding communities by ensuring that contractors’ workers at these facilities include a percentage of highly skilled workers that have graduated from a state-approved apprenticeship program.

The editorial states that current law has worked well to prevent accidents at these dangerous facilities for 15 years, when in fact we have documented more than 40 accidents that posed grave risks to the people and communities in Contra Costa County alone during that period. These include explosions, fires, and leaks of hazardous materials. Obviously, existing law is not serving to prevent these dangerous events.

Further, when the refinery safety issue was last visited in the Contra Costa County Industrial Safety Ordinance 15 years ago, the oil companies opposed the more stringent safety requirements. History shows that oil companies oppose every effort to improve safety at their facilities, and they are continuing that fight today by urging a veto of SB 54.

The existing law imposes no requirements that employees of outside contractors working at refineries have any level of skills training. The logical solution to this is to ensure that these outside contractors have properly trained workers who have completed state-approved apprenticeship programs, thereby reducing public health and safety risks. One only needs to look to the recent fire and explosion at an industrial nitrate plant in the state of Texas that killed several facility workers and 13 firefighters at this largely unregulated plant, devastating the local residential community. 

The claim in the letter from the refinery operators that SB 54 “eliminates safety guidelines” for 60 percent of the workforce is ludicrous on its face, because those guidelines don’t exist today. In fact, SB 54 creates them.

That explains why oil companies oppose SB 54, and those who truly care about public health and safety – including the California Medical Association, League of Conservation Voters, and California Professional Firefighters – are urging Governor Brown to sign it.


Robbie Hunter, President, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California

Opposition editorial:

Contra Costa Times editorial: Only Gov. Jerry Brown's veto can keep best safety tool

Contra Costa Times editorial © 2013 Bay Area News Group

Posted:   10/02/2013 12:28:02 PM PDT

Updated:   10/02/2013 12:37:26 PM PDT

As part of a political power play, the Legislature has recklessly voted to place the entire Bay Area at risk by passing Senate Bill 54, which devastates Contra Costa County's extremely successful and historic Industrial Safety Ordinance. The only hope left to stop the madness is Gov. Jerry Brown's veto pen.

The Industrial Safety Ordinance was crafted in the late '90s as an answer to a series of deadly accidents and safety problems at some of the area's oil refineries.

The ordinance has been working well for 15 years and is an exemplar of proper problem solving through the use of collaboration among industry, regulators and labor with a focus entirely on safety at major industrial facilities. Contra

Costa County has a high concentration of such plants, but ensuring their safe operation is in the best interest of the entire Bay Area. A single disaster at any one of them can have wide-ranging repercussions.

But SB 54 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, will change all of that. The changes reignite a political battle designed to advance the interests of local trade unions, but it comes at the expense of both safety and, ironically, another union, the United Steelworkers.

The Steelworkers represent about 95 percent of oil refinery workers in the state, and they adamantly oppose SB 54 because they know it will take jobs for their members, who are experienced in oil refinery operations and have the best safety record in the industry, and give them to workers who are not as experienced in the specialty of refinery work.

In a letter to the governor, the general managers of three major Contra Costa operations point out that SB 54 eliminates crucial safety guidelines for 60 percent of the contract workforce because it requires the hiring of a specific contractor labor pool without regard to safety and overrides the operators' ability to evaluate the safety training programs of 60 percent of their contract workforce to ensure their compliance with the safety requirements of the local ordinance.

They also correctly note that SB 54 trashes the essential "operating procedures" section of the ordinance that prescribes strict startup and shutdown guidelines along with detailed health and safety considerations for hazards presented by chemicals and exposures.

There are those who cynically use last year's fire at Richmond's Chevron refinery to damage an ordinance that for 15 years has been a model for industrial operations. While no ordinance is perfect and some safety changes to it are necessary, those should be about public safety, not political muscle. Public safety is too important for that. Gov. Brown should make that clear by vetoing SB 54.


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