SIU VP: Union Representation Would Make Difference in Gulf

July 2010

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Dean CorgeyWhile various pundits across the nation pondered what ledup to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how to prevent a similar disaster, SIU Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey last month served up an otherwise-overlooked suggestion.

Specifically, in an op-ed piece in the daily newspaper Houston Chronicle, Corgey stated that union representation in the offshore oil industry might have helped prevent the spill and certainly would improve operations moving forward.

“What’s wrong in the Gulf of Mexico? We think the answer is simple,” Corgey wrote. “The offshore exploration, production and service industry in the Gulf of Mexico, to the best of our knowledge, is 100 percent nonunion and increasingly foreign. Past attempts to organize these workers have been met with bitter opposition — not from employees but from employers. These largely anti-union employers struggle in a volatile, hypercompetitive environment that has resulted in unsafe working conditions and unstable employment. Lack of union representation has denied oil-field workers a voice in the workplace, which in turn has created an out-of-control industry with little oversight or accountability. It is painful to see oil-soaked birds receive more media attention than injured, deceased or displaced workers. It is also painful to see the lack of an organized workers’ voice in the legislative and regulatory processes contribute to 11 deaths and the worst spill in U.S. history. This clearly did not have to happen.”

A lifelong resident of Houston, Corgey cited the cooperative spirit that exists in the U.S. Merchant Marine between labor, management and government – a condition that fosters safe operations and open communication.

“In my experience, the most effective health, safety and environmental programs are a three-legged stool consisting of a committed employer, effective government regulation and meaningful safety provisions contained in a binding union contract subject to a grievance and arbitration procedure with teeth,” he wrote. “We practice this model in the deep-sea, U.S.-flag fleet with measurable success. I served on the Towing Safety Advisory Committee of the United States Coast Guard in the early 1990s following the Exxon Valdez disaster and participated in advising the Coast Guard on writing the regulations for the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. I also served on the Area Maritime Security Committee of the Department of Homeland Security for the Port of Houston following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack and participated in writing the original Port Security Plan, which became the model for security plans nationwide. After Exxon Valdez and the 2001 terror attacks, government, industry and labor worked together to accomplish something positive for the nation. This model must be replicated to save our domestic offshore industry.”

Among his specific recommendations, Corgey urged re-establishing Jones Act provisions on the outer continental shelf “to require American companies to operate American vessels, built in America, employing American workers subject to U.S. government oversight and labor laws.”

He concluded, “The American political system is based on checks and balances. This evidently does not currently exist in the Gulf as can be evidenced by representatives for deceased Deepwater Horizon workers being either aggrieved family members or personal injury trial lawyers. These workers would clearly be better served by the unified voice of effective trade unions to help protect the environment, proactively work to prevent the need for personal injury representation and ensure that all workers safely return home to their families. That’s the union way and that’s the American way.”


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