Much to their credit, the United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO want more sunlight on oil company practices. The unions believe that a string of accidents—including the deadly 2010 fire at Anacortes, Washington where Steelworkers are employed—is evidence that more safety information should be made public.

WSJ’s MarketWatch reports:

The [United Steelworkers] union has asked shareholders at Valero Energy Corp., Tesoro Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., ConocoPhillips, and Sunoco Inc. to allow the companies to disclose information on safety oversight, staffing levels and the inspection and maintenance of their refineries. The push comes after several major accidents caused numerous fatalities at refineries in the past few years, including an April 2 explosion at Tesoro’s Anacortes plant in Washington that killed seven people.

Meanwhile, the Houston Business Journal reports:

Nestled within all their proxy statements are shareholder proposals submitted by union organization… AFL-CIO—that would require each company to prepare a report of the “steps the company has taken to reduce the risk of accidents” within 90 days of the meeting. The report would spell out how each board oversees safety policy at the company.

The AFL-CIO proposals would affect ConocoPhillips, Tesoro, Valero, Chevron, and Marathon.

  • It appears that the oil companies will try to discourage shareholders from approving either of the proposals. That’s a shame because refiners and other oil companies currently do not make all safety information public, which makes it difficult for shareholders to get a true picture of working conditions and hazards. And it makes it difficult for oversight agencies to effectively monitor the oil industry.

    Greater oversight and regulation is badly needed. Consider, for example, the string of worker safety and environmental violations over the last couple of years by Tesoro alone. You can find Sightline’s accounting of them here: “Feds Say Tesoro Is At Fault” (April 5, 2011), “More Bad News For Tesoro” (2/14/11); “What Has Tesoro Done Lately?” (1/15/11); “Another Tesoro Flare-Up” (11/11/10); “One More Time: Who Is Tesoro?” (10/25/10) and “Who Is Tesoro?” (10/5/10).

    ***

    Update 5/6/11: The AFL-CIO blog has a good explanation of the issue. One bright spot, apparently, is the oil company Sunoco, which agreed to fully comply with the workers’ requests.