The Potluck

In reversal, Senate votes down refinery safety measure

By: - June 22, 2021 2:20 pm

The Marathon oil refinery in St. Paul Park. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The GOP-led Senate on Tuesday voted down an amendment requiring refinery contract workers to complete apprenticeship-level training just days after approving the same amendment, dealing a blow to refinery union workers. 

Teamsters at the Marathon oil refinery in St. Paul Park are in a contract dispute with the company over what workers say are dangerous working conditions. They cite the dismantling of a full-time fire department and the use of non-union labor that the union says are not properly trained. The company says it upholds rigorous health and safety standards.

The 34-32 vote Tuesday was starkly different than the 50-17 vote on Friday in favor of the provision, authored by state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove. Senate Republicans shipped the bill back to the Finance Committee, where the language was stripped out on a party line vote Monday.

Bigham blasted Republicans for stripping out her provision and attempted to amend the bill again on Tuesday when the Senate held another vote on it. It failed. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said that his caucus’ opposition to the provision was an effort to avoid getting in between management of the refinery and union workers, who voted overwhelmingly Monday to turn down the latest contract offer. 

He also argued that Republicans more so than Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers sided with union workers, outlining their staunch support of copper-nickel mining and the replacement of the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The two issues have divided Democrats. 

“I want to say we are fighting for these blue collar jobs, we just have a slightly different approach,” he said. 

After the vote, Bigham pledged to continue advocating on behalf of union refinery workers and noted that her father was a refinery worker for more than 40 years. She criticized Gazelka’s reasoning of not wanting to take sides in the dispute. 

“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” she said, adding that Gazelka has sought to intervene in other highly contentious issues in the past such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.