Employees at Sterling Fuels — the marine refuelling facility in Windsor’s west end — have refused work due to safety concerns about practices with train tank cars.
Dino Chiodo, president of Unifor Local 444, said union members at the port facility have been in dispute with the company since late February, when a new segment of work involving the rail line was introduced.
“There were some concerns that needed to be addressed with regards to the new process with rail cars,” Chiodo said on Thursday. “Unfortunately, it has taken the company a long time to recognize the severity of the requests.”
Unifor represents 19 full-time employees and a number of part-time employees at the facility in the roles of marine refuellers, maintenance workers, and general labourers.
Chiodo said the members aren’t off the job — there’s other work to be done in the facility’s daily operations. But members have refused work regarding the specific process since the beginning of March.
Concerns include: the availability of protective equipment such as face shields, breathing apparatuses, and eye wash stations; the availability of certain tools to avoid sparks; and the need for safety restraints when working on top of rail cars.
Chiodo said the company has been telling the union that other Sterling Fuels facilities have not had questions or problems with the process.
“I think those other facilities are non-unionized and might not understand the severity of what they’re dealing with — just like we’ve seen at Lac-Mégantic,” Chiodo said, referring to the July 2013 rail disaster in eastern Quebec when train cars carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, resulting in at least 42 deaths.
“It’s been somewhat challenging to make the company understand,” Chiodo said. “You’d think this is something that would be concerning to a corporation when they’re talking about something as serious as fuel and the hazards related to that.”
The federal Ministry of Employment, Workforce and Labour has become involved in the dispute. Chiodo said he believes work orders were recently issued to Sterling Fuels, and the company has until the end of the month to comply.
A representative of Sterling Fuels could not be reached for comment.
Located at 3665 Russell St., Sterling Fuels serves large vessels coming from the Detroit River. The facility is capable of storing 23 million gallons of fuel. All grades are kept available on a 24-hour basis.