California Fire Chiefs Protest Ordinance Change

Proposed union-friendly changes to Contra Costa County's Industrial Safety Ordinance are unsafe, refinery fire chiefs declared at a press event organized by local oil interests Wednesday.

"People will try to make this a union versus nonunion thing, but it's really not. They'll try to make it a political thing, and maybe it is, but not for us," said Chief Mark Ayers of Richmond's Chevron refinery. "For us fire chiefs, it's about safety."

Ayers is referring to a two-year squabble between refineries and labor over a proposed amendment to the ordinance. The amendment would create a training standard for refinery maintenance contractors that management claims would unfairly favor union workers.

The issue may influence campaign financing for November's Third Supervisorial District race between union-backed incumbent Millie Greenberg and Mary Nejedly Piepho, who opposes the amendment.

The news conference was organized by the Committee for Industrial Safety, a political action committee representing local refinery interests.

"Their assertion that (the amendment) locks them into hiring union employees, that's not what I'm trying to do," said Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, who introduced the amendment in 2002. "I'm trying to introduce ... an approved third party using objective criteria. Most trades and professions have those standards."

The 1998 ordinance gives the county some regulatory authority over refineries in Contra Costa's unincorporated areas. The amendment would require refinery contractors to take safety training from programs certified by the California Apprenticeship Council.

The council is a public board whose members serve at the governor's pleasure. Opponents claim that thousands of non-union maintenance contractors would lose work because union interests that have historically dominated the council might not certify their training programs.

Ayers, Chief Greg Clayton of Tesoro Golden Eagle, Chief Les Miller of ConocoPhillips Rodeo and Chief E.H. Wilhoite of Shell Oil's Martinez refinery said the amendment would force refineries to cut qualified nonunion contractors with proven safety records.

At the same time, they said, it would reduce the ability of refineries to screen their own contractors.

"The amendment would weaken our ability to bring in contractors based on safety performance," Wilhoite said.

The chiefs did not offer specifics about job impacts. The amendment applies to contractors only, not refinery firefighters or other employees. The ordinance affects only seven businesses, including Shell, Tesoro and ConocoPhillips.

Supervisors avoided the issue in 2002 by designating the amendment for environmental review. A draft of the review is now complete, though the board will not formally receive it until after public comment period closes Oct. 27.

The draft found that the amendment would not adversely affect safety.

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