Thursday, November 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Union leader adjusts, happily, to peace on the job

Weird, union leader Jim Savage said, happily. His union, United Steelworkers Local 10-1, was getting along so well with the new owners of the former Sunoco South Philadelphia refinery, that he had to shift his entire perspective.

Union leader adjusts, happily, to peace on the job

Jim Savage with Gov. Corbett.
Jim Savage with Gov. Corbett. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer

Weird, union leader Jim Savage said, happily. His union, United Steelworkers Local 10-1, was getting along so well with the new owners of the former Sunoco South Philadelphia refinery, that he had to shift his entire perspective.

He said he rarely had to scuffle with the new owners of the refinery, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, quite different with his relationship with the management at Sunoco Inc. We first talked about as he marched up Columbus Boulevard in the rain on Labor Day, and three months later, nothing had changed.

"Look  I can fight and I’m good at it," Savage said. "If you want to fight, let’s roll up the sleeves and start swinging. At some level, it might be fun.  But we couldn’t agree with Sunoco that the sun rises in the East, it was that bad. It was mentally exhausting."

On Saturday, the union is doing something unprecedented -- giving "solidarity and appreciation" awards to Philip Rinaldi, chief executive of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, and to David Marchick, managing director of the Carlyle Group, a private equity group that bankrolled the purchase of the refinery from Sunoco. (Sunoco still retains a 30 percent share.) You can read my Philadelphia Inquirer story about the award.

I asked Savage for an example of how things had changed.

"I got a call from the senior vice president of human resources -- let's go have lunch," Savage said. "We do that pretty regularly, which is another thing that is different."

Savage showed up for lunch with Bob Stewart, senior vice president of human resources, and froze up when he saw what Stewart had in his hand. It was a 60-page report, generated by the United Steelworkers main office, talking about the dangers of hydrofluoric acid in U.S. refineries.

"I think, `Oh man, here we go,' because this industry doesn’t like lights being shined on them, doesn’t like transparency, and doesn’t like people telling them what to do and this report was all three," Savage said. "As soon as I saw the report in his hand, I thought, `OK, gear up for a fight.'"

So Savage was stunned by Stewart's opening remarks. Savage said that Stewart said he had read the report several times and that it was jam-packed with good research and information.  Savage quoted Stewart: "Can we get some people together and make sure we're doing things right in Philadelphia? Let's make sure we're not going to kill anybody."

Savage recalled: "I almost fell out of my chair."

Savage told me that other union local presidents did not have the same experience with their employers. More typical? Managers would walk up to union members, slam down the report and say, `See, this is how your union is trying to kill your job.'"

Savage said that a committee was formed and presented a list of recommendations to Stewart. His response, as Savage recalls, was "I don't see any reason why we can't fulfill all those recommendations. Let's do them all."

Coming Monday: A Leadership Agenda profile of Philip Rinaldi.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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