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WS Tripartite Conference focuses on solutions to industry challenges

“We’re not ashamed of who we are. And we’re fighting a bunch of people who have no answers.”
— Robbie Hunter, President, SBCTC

IVP-WS J. Tom Baca stresses relationship building among owners, contractors and Boilermakers.

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Fossil fuels, safety, manpower among key topics

OWNERS AND CONTRACTORS joined the Boilermakers July 22-25 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to discuss industry challenges at the annual Western States Tripartite Conference. It was the 15th meeting of the group, which draws owners of refineries, power plants and other heavy industrial facilities, construction and maintenance contractors, and leaders from the Boilermakers International and local lodges.

During conference sessions, the group received updates on the future of fossil fuels, safety issues, manpower needs, and other developments. Participants also heard from guest speakers and engaged in caucus break-outs.

Western States International Vice President J. Tom Baca opened the meeting with an overview of how the conference has grown over the years and has succeeded in bringing industry partners together to build relationships. He said strong relationships are essential, especially in the face of aggressive and misguided attacks on the fossil fuel industry.

Hunter, Epstein push back on anti-fossil fuel movement

TWO SPEAKERS DISCUSSED the importance of fossil fuels to jobs, the economy and human advancement—and the need to defend against virulent attacks on the industry from environmental extremists.

Robbie Hunter, President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, spoke about challenges from activists and their political allies who seek to shut down California refineries and power generation facilities in response to climate change fears.

“The refineries only exist to meet the needs of society,” Hunter said. He noted that California is number three or four in oil extraction (allowing for fluctuations) in the United States, and that California-extracted oil is refined within the state. Shutting down California refineries and importing refined oil would increase the cost of living for those who can least afford it, he said, especially working families.

“We’re proud of who we are. We’re blue collar workers. We’re working in facilities that are meeting the needs of the state and [enabling] a lot of food to be grown, and people getting to work at a reasonable [fuel cost] so they can support their families. We’re not ashamed of who we are. And we’re fighting a bunch of people who have no answers” but who oppose fossil fuels and even green power generation systems such as pumped water storage and solar energy. “That’s a political fight that we’re constantly in. And we’re winning.”

Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, an industry think tank, told the conference that fossil fuel opponents only look at the negative side of fossil fuels and only the positive side of renewables. He said a more balanced and fair framework would show that fossil fuels remain the world’s dominant energy source because they have given humanity “an unprecedented ability to flourish.”

He said the fossil fuel industry “has figured out how to produce power on demand for billions of people, 24/7, 365 days a year. That’s an incredible thing. And the reason why we do it with fossil fuels is because no one has come close to figuring out any other way of doing it.”

Coal to gas conversion offers option

JOE BROWN, AMS Product Manager for Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, described how the latest technology enables power producers to convert coal-powered plants to gas generation. He said the conversions give utilities a lower-cost option to meet demands for reduced emissions while avoiding stranded investments in plants that might otherwise be shut down in the face of market forces and climate-change concerns.

He said such conversions are important, given the planned retirements and distressed operation of dispatchable power generation units across the United States and the potential shortfall of electricity generation.

Brown cited several successful conversion projects and explained how efficiency losses were minimized. He also described elements of the projects that would potentially be Boilermaker work.

Shell’s Rizzo reports on successful safety approach

TOM RIZZO, GENERAL Manager for the Shell Martinez (California) Refinery, provided an in-depth look into a successful safety approach that emphasizes full participation by the owner, the contractors and the workforce.

Rizzo said Shell’s Goal Zero safety concept focuses on relationship building and a “10 to 1” implementation (one person looking after the safety of 10 others, and each of those 10 looking after another 10).

He said the union workforce has fully embraced Goal Zero at the Martinez facility. “I’ve been very impressed with the enthusiasm that the Boilermakers and all of the building trades” have shown. “Since we’ve made this transition [implementing a project labor agreement] up until today, we have not had one OSHA recordable injury in any of our building trades contractor groups.”

Riker recounts lobbying success in Washington State

MARK RIKER, EXECUTIVE Secretary for the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, walked through efforts by the Council and the leadership of the Boilermakers in pushing through legislation requiring apprenticeships for certain heavy industries in the state, including refineries and chemical plants.

Known as ESHB 1817, the legislation was signed into law in May. The bill was modeled after California’s SB 54, a bill that was backed by the California building and construction trades (and spearheaded by the Boilermakers), which became law in 2013.

Riker applauded the work of Boilermakers, who “lobbied five and six days a week, 10 and 12 hours a day” to get ESHB 1817 passed.

Conference offers updates on other programs

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS ALSO received updates on various programs and initiatives. Director of Recruitment Tim Simmons spoke about manpower scheduling and recruitment efforts, and Western States Scheduling Analyst Johnny Baca reported on the development of an online tracking system.

Other topics included federal legislation impacting the energy industry, pensions and healthcare; MOST programs; Bank of Labor; the Western States Apprenticeship Program; and the M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund.

At the conference the election of a new Western States Owner Chairman, Mike Madden, Building Trades Labor Relations Manager of Marathon Petroleum, was also announced.