Valero (VLO) Bankrolling Effort to Kill AB 32, Also Has Long Anti-Union History

Posted on 27 May 2010

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By Steve Maviglio

As if Valero Energy's disastrous environmental record wasn't bad enough (including being ranked the 12th most toxic polluter in the U.S. in a study by the University of Massachusetts), it turns out the company also has a long history of opposing organized labor. A new research report shows the company has thwarted organizing efforts at its refineries, recently reversed a policy of hiring union-only contractors, and aligned itself with anti-union political allies in Texas and California.

Last August, despite 74 percent of the workers at Valero's Texas City, Texas, signing a petition for United Steel Workers representation, the company launched an all-out effort to halt the union organization effort. Workers were subject to captive audience meetings for three weeks before the vote, one-on-one meetings with management and “vote no” banners as they entered the plant and the security gate. Valero’s CEO and chief financial officer flew in the week of the vote to encourage workers to vote no. The company also sent a disk to every worker’s home encouraging them to not seek union representation. The USW was not given similar access to the workers. (Source: United Steelworkers, The Oil Worker, August 2009.) Employees ultimately voted 184-93 late Friday against joining the union, which the USW attributed to intimidation tactics from Valero, one of the nation's largest refiners.  

The United Steelworkers supports a card-check proposal currently before the Congress, which would allow workers to immediately have the union as a bargaining representative when the majority of site employees sign cards requesting membership, as opposed to a 45-day wait period and vote.

"If the law had been in place, we'd be negotiating a contract with Valero today," USW subdistrict director Jim Lefton said. "Because it's not in place, Valero is free to intimidate, harass and threaten employees during the time frame that is there between the filing of the petition and the election actually being held. It's yet another example of how the laws are tilted in favor of corporations when it comes to organizing," he added.

But it's not just one plant where Valero has flexed its corporate muscle to beat back the rights of workers to organize.

Valero’s CEO Bill Klesse is the Chairman of the National Petrochemical Refiners Association (NPRA). In NPRA’s 2008-2009 report, the organization stated that they would, “Continue opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act and the RESPECT Act” as part of their national lobbying efforts. (National Petrochemical Refiners Association, 2008-2009 Annual report).

The NPRA states on its website that it will oppose the EFCA: Legislative proposals such as the “Employee Free Choice Act,” “RESPECT Act,” “Arbitration Fairness Act” and others, while marketed as benefiting workers could ultimately disrupt productivity significantly in the American workplace. The membership of NPRA will oppose any legislation or regulatory issue that would cause discord within the industry workforce. (Source: NPRA website)

The company also has been underhanded in other ways in dealing with organized labor at its refineries. In at least one instance, the company changed employee benefits without giving union representatives the right to bargain, according to Bobby Hollis, president of the USW, and chairman of the Valero employees group.  (McClatchy-Tribune Business News, November 19, 2008). At another, Valero dropped its longstanding practice of hiring union-only contractors. As the News Journal reported on November 21, 2009, "Prior to the shut-down of Valero’s Delaware City Refinery, Union boilermaker Martin Willis said unusual numbers of Valero officials had been seen walking around the plant with note pads. He added that frictions between labor and management had risen in recent weeks after the company announced plans to drop a longstanding practice of hiring union-only contractors.

The company has also donated more than $500,000 to the California Republican Party in recent years, which features anti-union language in its party platform. In Texas, it is a heavy contributor to Gov. Rick Perry, an ultra-conservative known for his strong anti-organized labor views.

In its effort to kill AB 32, Valero also is joined at the hip with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. That group has a long history of funding anti-union efforts, including so-called "paycheck protection" ballot initiatives.


Steven Maviglio is a Sacramento-based public affairs and political consultant. He is the former Deputy Chief of Staff to Speakers Karen Bass and Fabian Nunez. This article originally appeared in the California Majority Report.