Since the start of the United Steelworkers strike at the oil refineries, Katherine Rodriguez has been watching the developments, and thinking of her father, Ray Gonzalez. "He would have loved this. He would have been out there on the picket line with them if he was still here," she says.
Photo by Max Burkhalter Katherine Rodriguez has been following the USW strike, .
USW union members have been on strike since February 1. USW reps have rejected at least seven contract offers from Shell, and pulled more than 6,500 workers at 15 plants -- with about 5,000 coming from 12 oil refineries -- since the strike started. Locally, the strike started by pulling union workers out of LyondellBasell, Shell Deer Park, and the Texas City refinery where Rodriguez's father was fatally injured more than a decade ago. While the two sides are reportedly butting heads over a variety of things -- including contractors and rules that make sure fatigued workers aren't stuck on the job -- it's the safety issues that hit closest to home for Rodriguez.
Her father was killed from burns sustained in an accident at the then-British Petroleum Texas City refinery in September 2004. Gonzalez lived in the hospital for weeks after the accident and for a long time Rodriguez and her two sisters and their mother hoped that Gonzalez would pull through. But eventually his body began to fail and his organs started shutting down. The family was together with him at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston when they turned off all the machines.
After that, Rodriguez couldn't stand to even talk about what had happened to her father, but she started researching the industry that employed him for most of his adult life. Only then did she begin to understand what it was really like behind the refinery fence. While he never said a word in front of his daughters about the dangers and the near-misses that were a part of life at the Texas City refinery, Gonzalez would tell his wife about the burns and how careful they had to be at the refinery, her mother later told her. "He kept that from us because he didn't want us to worry. If we had known we would have worried all the time," Rodriguez says now.More »