By Anne Rolfes, LABB Founding Director and Kristen Evans, LABB Art-To-Action Coordinator
2284 Letters on the Capitol Steps Tell Steve Blume: Clean Up Your Act
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has established a goal of reducing oil industry accidents in Louisiana. In 2010 there were 353 refinery accidents; in the year after the BP Oil Disaster there were over 3,000 spills in the Gulf.
These accidents are terrible for the state, but we know they can be prevented if the oil industry would invest its billion dollar profits and hire more workers to get the job done. Media coverage is one tool that we use to bring attention to the insufficient workforce and subsequent accident epidemic. But long before we call TV stations or the newspapers, we ask to meet with those who have the power to solve these problems. In the case of refinery accidents, our request to sit down and talk goes to the plant manager.
On March 16th, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and United Steelworker (USW) Local President Ken Duke brought 2284 letters addressed to Steve Blume, the General Manager of the ExxonMobil plant, to the steps of the Capitol in Baton Rouge. Our message: the ExxonMobil plant in Baton Rouge has an accident problem.
Creative communication – like our celebration at the state capitol last week – is one way to send a message to the oil industry that they need to sit down and talk about their accidents. We are collaborating with the refinery workers on this because we know that reducing oil industry accidents means hiring more workers and a boon to the Louisiana economy.
In December of 2009 we sent our first request to ExxonMobil plant manager Steven Blume. He was invited to a refinery accident forum hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Blume refused to sit down, stating in a letter that the proposed forum was not productive. No explanation was provided nor was an alternative conversation suggested.
Since Mr. Blume has repeatedly refused to meet with the Bucket Brigade and accept the letters, we showed up with his substitute — a 12 foot puppet that had a penchant for lip-syncing to such songs as “Mr. Big Stuff” and “It’s Money that I Love”. Surrounding the puppet were scrolls made of the individual letters, long enough to stretch 5-1/2 football fields.
Representing the USW, Mr. Duke said: “We are not anti-industry. We are pro-safety and pro-jobs. When you have a dangerous plant, a plant that shuts down because of an explosion, you impact the economy and lose jobs…You can’t run a refinery efficiently, safely, and environmentally-friendly unless you have it staffed. Exxon made $41 billion dollars in profit last year in part by cutting out jobs and safety.”
OSHA charged ExxonMobil last year for lack of staffing. USW Local 13-12 is concerned about safety, insufficient staffing and the number of accidents at the Refinery. The Union has asked for a Joint Health and Safety Committee to help improve safety. ExxonMobil has rejected the Union’s proposal. USW has resubmitted the proposal and ExxonMobil is currently considering it.
Two years and three months have passed since we first reached out to Steven Blume, and we have continued to extend the offer to meet with him to discuss his refinery’s terrible accident problem. Goodness knows he needs help. In 2010 the refinery had 103 accidents – nearly two a week. Mr. Blume will claim that the high accident rate is due to diligence in reporting. But one of the accidents deemed insignificant by Exxon sent three workers to the hospital (see page 12 of report). One of those workers ended up in the burn unit. These accidents are significant. And there is much that goes unreported to the public. The workers know this better than anyone, and it is why we are collaborating with their Union (USW).
The fact is that Mr. Blume has an open, longstanding invitation – dating from December 2009 – to sit down with us and our partners. The fact is that we have been rebuffed at every turn. And so we have taken to the streets, to the steps of our state capitol, to the front doors and porches of people across south Louisiana. It turns out that they, too, are concerned with Mr. Blume’s accident problem.
2,284 Louisiana residents (and counting) have written letters to Mr. Blume expressing concern about Exxon’s accidents. These letters were written directly to him, and we will not give them to an assistant. He needs to read them.
Please encourage Mr. Blume to accept the USW proposal for a Joint Health and Safety Committee, the letters from concerned residents and our invitation to discuss accident reduction.
Yes, we are seeking publicity. But more than that we are seeking a real solution to Exxon’s accident problem. We’d rather talk with you, Mr. Blume, and get to the bottom of the problem. Come on Mr. Blume. We are waiting.