At 5 PM on Thursday, January 21, 200 workers represented by Teamsters Local 120 at the Marathon refinery in St Paul Park walked off the job in Minnesota’s first strike of 2021. They offered to return after 24 hours, but the company has decided to lock them out instead, content to continue working with scabs brought in from Louisiana. As workers on the line have been quick to point out, the labor dispute is not about wages or benefits, but about outsourcing and worker safety. Marathon Petroleum Company is demanding the ability to outsource up to 40 jobs at the plant, and give the remaining union workers more responsibilities. Besides being a trick to get out of paying union wages, outsourcing is detrimental for worker safety; sending jobs out to the lowest builder encourages companies to cut corners. Making the remaining workers do more with their time will inevitably lead to workers spending less time ensuring safety, a frightening prospect for such a dangerous workplace. Indeed, Marathon paid $86 million in 2017 to settle a lawsuit brought on after a fire in its Galveston refinery, and the Husky refinery explosion of 2018 in Superior looms large for the workers.
Considering that their fight for a safe refinery has implications for the whole community, it has been heartening to see the community support these Teamsters. Union members from multiple locals, including the USW local that represents the Pine Hills refinery in Coates, have been out to support every day, as well as the usual assortment of politicians. When we saw news of the strike, Twin Cities DSA members formed an ad-hoc strike support committee, and have had a lot of success bringing out comrades, with over fifty so far coming over three separate days. Many of these comrades are new to DSA, and most have never been to a strike before, so it has been wonderful to see the levels of support.
Beyond just turning out, DSA members have been active in other ways. We have delivered food and supplies to the picket line, with the Hi-Lake Organizing Committee coordinating a large delivery of K-cups and hand warmers. We have additionally shared and contributed to the strike support fund created by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation’s Working Partnerships. Teamsters Local 120 has said that letters of support from unions and organizations are important, so we have started work on reaching out to community groups and asking for support.
While it is hard to predict how long a private sector lockout can last, this looks like it might be a long one. The workers say that Marathon is determined to break their union, and union members from other Marathon refineries say the same. In order to continue their struggle against a giant corporation through the bitter cold of February, these workers need all the support they can get. Twin Cities DSA is committed to be there for them, from showing up to the picket line to bringing news of their struggle to the rest of the community. This upcoming Valentine’s Day, we are planning a car caravan along with the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. We’ll have more information on this soon, so keep your ears peeled!