PES Workers’ Response to Fire Saves Community From Disaster; Company Announces Shut Down

Thanks to the quick thinking of USW Local 10-1 operators during the June 21 fire and explosion in the hydrofluoric acid unit at Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), a dangerous cloud of hydrogen fluoride (HF) did not move over heavily populated neighborhoods.

HF exposure can cause severe burns and damage the eyes, skin, nose, throat and respiratory system. HF also can cause internal damage in the body, and at high levels, it can be deadly.

Local 10-1 operators took action quickly and followed their training protocol. They shut down process units immediately. An operator in the central control room pushed a button on the board to empty the hydrofluoric acid from the alkylation unit caught on fire, and this action averted a potential tragedy of an HF release.

Local 10-1 and PES are part of the USW’s Triangle of Prevention program that involves frequent training, and workers investigate near misses and incidents. Oil refining is dangerous, and incidents can happen that are beyond workers’ control.

Only the HF unit was damaged. The rest of the refining complex was unharmed. Despite this, PES decided to shut down the facility on June 26 and plans to prepare it for sale.

More than 1,000 employees stand to lose their jobs, and the closure will affect the building trades, contractors, suppliers and other businesses that sell goods and services to the refinery and its workers. Schools and local governments will lose tax revenue.

Local 10-1 held a meeting with members and elected officials on July 2 to discuss the abrupt closure of the plant. The refinery’s former CEO, Philip Rinaldi, met with labor, business and political leaders, the same day in a private meeting to lay out a strategy to save the facility.

Reportedly, some potential employers from Arkansas, Louisiana and Saudi Arabia came into the refinery to interview employees. Job fairs are also being discussed.

The USW negotiated a successorship clause into the National Oil Bargaining Program pattern agreement, which is in the Local 10-1 contract, so any new owner would have to accept the union and the existing labor agreement.

During a bargaining session between Local 10-1 and PES on July 3, the company said it would extend the termination date for employees from July 12 to Aug. 25 in order to prepare the refinery for resale or a restart.

To read more about what happened during the PES fire and explosion, click here.

To read about the PES closure, click here.

To read about the extension of the employees’ termination date, click here.

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