Ohio’s largest refiner says flawed labor bill won’t protect worker safety

October 31, 2023

Proponents of House Bill (HB) 205, legislation currently pending in the Ohio Senate, claim the bill is about protecting refinery safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. HB 205 simply mandates arbitrary training programs for contract refinery workers, with no guarantee of increased safety or quality performance at Ohio’s refineries. In reality, HB 205 is about Ohio building trades looking for a monopoly over critical maintenance and construction projects. Whether the workers who do the maintenance are local or not, or qualified or not, will not matter under this legislation.

Cenovus Energy has refining operations throughout the United States. We are the largest refiner in Ohio, including operations in Lima and Toledo, as well as our U.S. headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, and we value our strong and longstanding partnership with unions. Cenovus proudly employs thousands of American professionals and skilled workers, offering them high-paying and rewarding careers. This workforce includes approximately 1,200 Ohioans, of which 550 are full-time Ohio USW (United Steelworkers) operators, mechanics and technicians. In addition to our union workforce, hundreds of embedded building trade contractors provide support to our Ohio refineries daily.

Cenovus is deeply concerned this flawed bill will negatively impact refinery safety by restricting the ability of refiners to hire the best, most qualified contractors to complete large-scale maintenance projects at our facilities. One of the most significant flaws in the bill is that it does not factor in the quality of training, work or safety performance Cenovus has experienced historically with large-scale maintenance projects in Ohio.

For example, for a 2019 project at our Lima refinery, we used primarily trade union contractors. Their safety performance during the project was unacceptably poor and led to a significant amount of re-work to fix the issues. In 2021, we used mainly skilled non-union trade contractors for a similar project at Lima and experienced minimal safety and performance issues. Since 2021, we have offered to work with trade union contractors to help improve their quality of work and safety performance, at Cenovus’s expense, with little to no uptake.

One of Cenovus’s core values is Protect what matters - caring for and protecting our workers, communities and the environment. To achieve these goals, Ohio refiners need the flexibility to hire contractors that can best fulfill the scope of work and meet the expectations and standards of the business in a safe, professional and efficient manner. By limiting our choice of contract workers, HB 205 could exclude the best-qualified contract workers. This would negatively impact our ability to meet our core value of Protect what matters.

As a proud investor in Ohio, Cenovus hires residents – both directly and indirectly – whenever possible. HB 205 will do nothing to enhance that or ensure more jobs for Ohio workers. The trade unions simply do not have enough access to skilled Ohio tradespeople to perform large-scale refinery projects, and they regularly enlist large numbers of out-of-state workers for these projects. For instance, on the 2019 Lima project, 95% trade-union labor was used and 80% of those workers were brought in from outside Ohio. That would not change under HB 205.

Further, the bill would require Ohio refinery workers to “demonstrate proficiency” in English. Proponents of the bill claim this would prevent refiners from using “illegal” workers. In reality, all workers who enter Ohio refineries, whether contract or full time, already undergo an extensive background check and drug screening required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This screening ensures they are legally authorized to work in the United States. The English proficiency requirement is a thinly veiled attempt to limit the hiring of out-of-state workers so trade unions can avoid competing with highly skilled non-union workers on quality and safety performance.

We work closely with our contractors to ensure everyone on-site can communicate clearly and we are not aware of a single safety incident at any refinery caused by a language barrier. The proponents of this bill and the trade unions themselves would be better served by focusing on working with us to help improve their safety performance.

The people of Ohio have built a strong energy industry that provides good jobs and secure, affordable energy for Americans. Ours is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States, and refining industry safety records show a 30-year decline in rates of injury and illness — significantly lower than the rates for other American manufacturers.

We call upon Ohioans and the Ohio legislature to reject HB 205 and what it stands for. Cenovus remains committed to building and strengthening a local workforce that is better prepared to meet our industry’s needs, and we stand ready to work with policymakers and unions to continue our investments in Ohio’s refining industry.

Claudio Ingaramo
Interim Regional Vice-President, U.S. Operations
Cenovus Energy Inc.

Cenovus Energy Inc.

Cenovus Energy Inc. is an integrated energy company with oil and natural gas production operations in Canada and the Asia Pacific region, and upgrading, refining and marketing operations in Canada and the United States. The company is focused on managing its assets in a safe, innovative and cost-efficient manner, integrating environmental, social and governance considerations into its business plans. Cenovus common shares and warrants are listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, and the company’s preferred shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. For more information, visit cenovus.com.

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