An eclectic group of organizers gathered at Point Richmond’s Washington Park on Labor Day, in protest of Chevron’s inadequate treatment of their workers and the communities surrounding their facilities.
United Public Workers for Action (UPWA) hosted the event, in the wake of the August 6 Chevron Richmond refinery explosion, rallying roughly 50 people from community groups and residents from around the area. Groups like the Peace and Justice political party protested alongside
Occupiers in calling for compensation for people affected by Chevron refineries.
The march started at Washington Park and ended at the Richmond refinery, where the police lingered close behind. Upon arriving, the mass of people put anti-capitalist and anti-Chevron signs around the front entrance. Many individuals spoke over a megaphone about their distrust of Chevron.
“We’re here to make the connection between the Chevron fire and the running of the extraction industries, the oil industries, the refining industries, to the profit making of the .1 percent,” said Charles Rachlis, a member of the UPWA. “And this is done in their interest and not in our interest.”
Many community groups attended for reasons such as seeking the prosecution of top Chevron executives, protection of workers and the community and the calling for the redistribution of Chevron’s profits.
Dr. Henry Clark, director of the West County Toxics Coalition (WCTC), said he attended the protest to “fight against the environmental injustices” of workers and the communities around the area.
“The workers are on the front line in the refineries and they know about refinery safety and know how the company (Chevron) tries to get around refinery safety,” said Clark. “They keep reduction going, so they can make those profits, which put the workers and the communities at risk and we say no to that.”
Michael Delacour, who has worked for a contractor under Chevron said, “basically we want to take it over, it’s ours, we made it. Take all the wealth and give it to the people.”
For 33 years, Delacour has been working at refineries like the Chevron in Richmond, under the International Association of Boilermakers, one of the richest local unions according to Delacour.
He says recently his union is trying to propose a two-tier system, which he opposes, because it decreases the standard income, by paying new hires at a lower rate.
“We’re under cutting ourselves,” Delacour stated. “One in five goes to work for half our wage, so in turn, that’s how they kill the union movement.”
Chevron spokesperson Melissa Ritchie said the energy company “will continue to work with community leaders and City officials to address our neighbors concerns.”
“We value their input,” continued Ritchie, “and as a proud member of the Richmond community for more than a hundred years, we are committed to the success of this city.”
However, Richmond residents have tried fighting back by passing Measure T in 2008, which would have taxed Richmond businesses — primarily aimed towards the refinery — at a quarter of .1 percent of the raw materials used, according to the Women League of Voters of California.
In September 2011, after a litigation process found Measure T to be illegal because cities do not have the authority to tax businesses, the Richmond Progressive Alliance came out saying Chevron is trying to appeal by suing Richmond and the Contra Costa County for property taxes lost from 2004-2009 with the implementation of Measure T.
Mary Flanagan, a teacher from Eastern Elementary School, located about a mile away from the refinery, said she could see the health impact the refinery has on her students.
“There’s all these toxic issues in the district that has been swept under the rug,” said Flanagan.
“The high incidents of disability, the high learning disabilities in students, the violence, I think that could be directly traced to the heavy metals. I mean, when I started teaching here seven or eight years ago you could see the flaring when I drove up every morning.”
Ritchie confirmed Chevron intends to compensate victims of the Richmond refinery fire who have legitimate and documented health issues due to the incident.
“It is premature to speculate on the cause of the incident,” Ritchie stated in reference to the refinery fire. “Right now, we are working with investigators to determine the cause and take the steps necessary to prevent this from happening again.”
Chevron did not make a statement on whether compensation would be given to residents near refineries who are currently dealing with health concerns of non-catastrophe cases.
This entry was published in The Pioneer Online on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 12:35 pm.