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House passes oil refinery safety bill, sends it to governor

Serious safety concerns raised by workers at Minnesota’s two oil refineries have gone unheeded, especially related to contracted employees.

On Monday, the House took action to address those concerns, passing HF10/SF10* in the hopes of staving off a potential future disaster. The vote was 83-46. Passed 39-27 by the Senate last week, the measure now heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz.

Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) and Sen. Judy Seeberger (DFL-Afton) are the sponsors.

A former steelworker on the Iron Range, Lislegard drew on personal experience when speaking about the vital importance of employing skilled professionals who are properly trained on an industrial worksite.

“When this bill was brought to me, it resonated with me. It resonated with me because I was an apprentice,” he said. “Refineries are not just the typical work environment … [This bill] puts a baseline of training in place to minimize the risk.”

To that end, the bill aims to improve workplace training and safety standards by requiring that a percentage of all third-party contractor employees working at oil refineries be graduates or apprentices in a registered apprenticeship program. These requirements would be phased in over time so:

  • 30% of a contractor’s workforce must qualify as “skilled and trained” (as defined in the bill) by Jan. 1, 2024;
  • 45% by Jan. 1, 2025; and
  • 60% by Jan. 1, 2026.

Contracts entered into, extended, or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2024, between refineries and contractors would have to abide by these new standards. Previously existing contracts would have to be renegotiated to comply by Jan. 1, 2025.

Certain exemptions are provided for, such as if a good faith search by a union to find qualified workers for a contractor comes up empty or an emergency necessitates immediate action by whomever is working at the refinery.

Companies could be fined between $5,000 and $10,000 per violation of the new labor standards.

Many Republicans view the proposed quotas as overly burdensome and potentially harmful to workers’ livelihoods.

Because of these concerns, Rep. Isaac Schultz (R-Elmdale Township) and Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) unsuccessfully offered four amendments that would have provided additional exemptions to the necessity of participation in an apprenticeship program.

Lislegard argued the amendments would weaken the effectiveness of the bill and its goal of enhancing workplace safety, while Republicans contended competent and well-trained workers will lose their jobs unless these adjustments were made to the bill’s language.

Bucking his caucus, Rep. Nolan West (R-Blaine) noted that the potential consequences of an accident at critical infrastructure are of a different magnitude than at, for example, an Amazon warehouse.

“If a refinery has a problem, that’s a global issue.”

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