By Jarrett Renshaw TOLEDO, Ohio (Reuters) - U.S. oil refinery managers are going to the mats, literally, during the biggest fight with union workers in 35 years, bedding down for a third strike week that experts and some employees say raises concerns over safety and operations. At the 135,000 barrel-per-day refinery just outside of Toledo, Ohio, run by BP Plc and Husky Energy Inc , most of the nearly 300-person staff have been calling the refinery home since Feb. 9. For the last week, they have slept on recently purchased mattresses inside rental trailers to rapidly respond to any problems and avoid striking workers, sources say. On Tuesday, a van full of washing and drying machines gingerly cut through about a dozen United Steelworkers carrying pickets and walking a strike line at the facility's front gate. Those efforts underscore how far operators are willing to go to retain normalcy in the face of the largest national U.S. refinery strike since 1980. And as more replacement workers join the ranks here and the other eight refineries where strikes have occurred, more questions are arising about potential safety and production risks from an extended walkout. While such warnings may seem a self-serving negotiating tactic, even some on the other side of the line are concerned. John Ostberg, a non-union control engineer who works in the main computerized control center at Toledo, quit his job on Monday weeks before he was scheduled to retire. For months, Ostberg has been warning his bosses in emails about their plans to rely on replacement workers and supervisors if a strike occurred. He feared they were not properly trained, or too far removed from the frontlines, to respond to unit upsets and other problems that can escalate quickly without experienced intervention. “Management says it’s safe. I disagree,” Ostberg said in a phone interview on Thursday. BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company does not discuss publicly discuss personnel issues, but did provide highlights of the refinery's safety record, such as how workers logged 15 million man hours, or 39 months, without a serious injury by June 2014. Husky Energy deferred all questions to BP. In dozens of interviews with local USW workers, craftsman and experts, a portrait of the day-to-day role they play emerges: monitoring large electronic boards that detect problems, turning valves, checking the quality of refined products and overseeing work permits. But their biggest contribution, the people say, is serving as the refinery’s frontline defense when things go wrong. Chad Coburtson, president of the USW local at the Toledo refinery, described his members' role this way: "The steelworkers are like the nails in the frame. Without us the structure will crumble.” At least three of the nine U.S. oil refineries targeted by a nationwide strike of USW members have reported upsets and unplanned repairs since their workers walked out on Feb 1. There is no indication of what caused the upsets, none of which resulted in any harm or serious damage to equipment. TURNING WRENCHES BP Husky’s strategy will get its first real test this week when it attempts to restart its catalytic cracker, a major gasoline-producing unit that unexpectedly went down a few weeks ago. About 100 contract workers have been working around the clock to restart the unit on Wednesday, a source said. “BP has trained multiple workers for every operations position normally performed by a striking USW employee. These replacement workers are comprised primarily of current and former BP employees who have been trained to the same legally required and BP-mandated standards as regular workers," BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an email. Mark Broadbent, a research analyst with consultants Wood Mackenzie, said the longer the strikes last, the more exposed the refineries may be to disruptions caused by unit upsets. "They are experienced. They know their facilities, what valves to turn. Their response time is much quicker, and they can easily resolve problems when units flare up,” he said. “The companies have certainly shown they are capable of running the refineries, but over time, as more upsets occur, they will likely not be handled as quickly.” At Tesoro Corp's refinery in Martinez, California, managers and other non-union employees are sleeping in tents inside a centralized control room while they monitor the currently idle plant, according to striking workers at the site. Criff Reyes, who has worked in the refinery's alkylation unit for 16 years, says he believes that Tesoro opted to shut down the plant - rather than restart it following maintenance - because managers are not qualified or experienced enough to run it after about 400 USW members walked out. Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee said the employees at the refinery are the "same ones who provide technical support to the facilities, supervise the operators on a daily basis and train them in how to safely operate the refineries." THREE TO ONE Currently, there are 320 workers at Toledo refinery represented by the USW and about 278 non-union employees, according to BP. At any given time, there are also anywhere from 300 to 1,000 contract workers at the refinery. During most days, USW workers are outnumbered by contractors by 3-to-1, building trade and union sources said. The USW used to have members in a boiler and carpenter shop, but now that work has gone to contract workers. Typically, USW workers are responsible for shutting down a unit, while contractors do the work. But there are a host of jobs at the refinery that do not fall neatly in the project category done by contractors work and operations done by USW. This type of work is described as routine maintenance - replacing wires, screens and other tasks - and it is at the heart of the disagreement between the USW and the companies. USW says these jobs are routine tasks closely aligned to operations while the companies want to retain the flexibility that comes with contract workers - sometimes represented by their own unions - and limit their exposure to USW strikes. The issue has divided traditional allies. "On one hand, we are union brothers and sisters and we support them," said one local leader in the building trades. "On the other hand, they want our jobs, so it's not like we can picket with them." Inspectors have visited refineries in Carson, California, and Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where strikes have occurred to determine whether the replacement workers have the proper training and qualifications. In Kentucky, inspectors from the state's Department of Labor were responding to a complaint, while California inspectors from the state's Department of Industrial Relations were already at the site for a routine visit and decided to expand their inquiry. Both the Kentucky and California investigations are ongoing, officials said Friday. Inspectors from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the lead agency in Ohio, have not visited Toledo, officials said Friday. THE FINAL STRAW Ostberg, the 56-year-old engineer who worked at Toledo since 1980, helped run the refinery operating center, known locally as the ROC, the heart of the plant. Behind a blast-proof wall, Ostberg and others monitor the dozens of units that populate the refinery to ensure things are running properly and alert USW workers manning the units when they are not. Toledo is an integrated system, which means each unit depends on another for feedstock. So, if there is a problem with one unit, it can quickly grow to other units and often takes more manpower to put under control. “I sit behind a blast-proof wall, so I’m not worried about my safety," he says. "But I fear for everyone else.” (Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
- Associated Press
A federal judge in Washington on Friday night halted a plan to release and put on house arrest the Arkansas man photographed sitting at a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office during last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol. Richard Barnett will instead be brought to Washington, D.C., immediately for proceedings in his case, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered Friday night, staying a decision by another judge to confine Barnett to his home in Gravette, Arkansas, until his trial. Howell's ruling came hours after U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wiedemann in Arkansas set a $5,000 bond for Barnett and ordered that a GPS monitor track his location.
- NBC News
Jennifer Ryan faces charges of disorderly conduct and knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful entry.
Jacob Fracker, an off duty police officer charged in connection with the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol, is a member of the Virginia National Guard, an official said on Thursday, becoming the first known person currently in the military to be arrested over last week's events. President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, forcing lawmakers to flee the inner chambers of the building, fearing for their lives. On Wednesday, the Department of Justice said Fracker, along with another off duty police officer, Thomas Robertson, were charged after they were photographed inside the Capitol "making an obscene statement in front of a statue of (Revolutionary hero) John Stark."
Bee Nguyen, Georgia's first Vietnamese American state representative, donned an áo dài to her swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. Regarded as the most popular national costume of Vietnam, the áo dài for women is a long dress with a contoured top that flows over loose-fitting trousers that reach the sole of the feet. Nguyen, 39, decided to wear the garment in response to the Capitol siege on Jan. 6, in which rioters carried the South Vietnamese flag.
- Associated Press
A Florida waitress who noticed bruises on an 11-year-old boy flashed him a handwritten note asking him if he needed help, and when he nodded yes, she called the police, authorities said. Orlando police credited Flaviane Carvalho, a waitress at Mrs. Potato Restaurant, with coming to the boy's aid on New Year's Eve when the child’s parents weren’t looking. Police took the boy to a hospital where doctors found bruises on his face, earlobes and arms.
The white woman caught on tape getting into a physical altercation with a Black female security guard the evening before the Capitol riots lost her job at UMass Hospital. The termination occurred after her daughter went viral for exposing her identity on social media. On January 5th, Therese Duke and a group of pro-Trump protesters that included other family members were filmed harassing Ashanti Smith, a security guard working at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington D.C.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has promised a quick and dramatic reversal of the restrictive immigration policies put in place by his predecessor President Donald Trump. While Biden pledged to undo many of Trump's policies starting the first day he takes office on Jan. 20, the layers of reforms will take much longer to implement. Biden, a Democrat, said in a June tweet he will send a bill to Congress "on day one" that laid out "a clear roadmap to citizenship" for some 11 million people living in the United States unlawfully.
- The Telegraph
Government must 'get a grip' of what is now a full-blown crisis in the fishing industry, say fishermen
Scotland's fishermen have told Boris Johnson his Brexit trade deal leaves them with the "worst of both worlds" amid export delays and collapsing market prices. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) said the industry was facing "mounting financial losses" and the only way to ensure a fair price was a 72-hour round trip to land catch in Denmark. Elspeth Macdonald, the trade group's chief executive, said there was "huge disappointment and a great deal of anger about your failure to deliver on promises made repeatedly to this industry." She accused him of having "spun a line" about a 25 per cent uplift in the UK's quota and demanded urgent details of promised compensation for the disruption. Her concerns were echoed by Scotland's seafood processors, who said ministers in both London and Edinburgh need to "get a grip" of the long delays exporters are facing. A third of fishing boats in Scotland are tied up at harbours and the industry is estimated to be losing £1 million per day. Exporters warned they face possible bankruptcy amid a suspension of road deliveries due to border delays. Transport company DFDS stopped exports last week after delays in getting new paperwork introduced following the expiry of the Brexit transition period for EU border posts in France. It aims to resume the service on Monday. Paperwork has to be approved before consignments can be sent to DFDS's warehouse in South Lanarkshire and then on to English Channel ports. In her letter to the Prime Minister, Ms McDonald said: "Many fishing vessels are tied to the quay wall.” She added: "This industry now finds itself in the worst of both worlds. Your deal leaves us with shares that not only fall very far short of zonal attachment, but in many cases fail to ‘bridge the gap’ compared to historic catches, and with no ability to leverage more fish from the EU, as they have full access to our waters. "This, coupled with the chaos experienced since 1st January in getting fish to market means that many in our industry now fear for their future, rather than look forward to it with optimism and ambition."
- Associated Press
In the birthplace of Mexico’s vigilante “self-defense” movement, a new group has emerged entirely made up of women, who carry assault rifles and post roadblocks to fend off what they say is a bloody incursion into the state of Michoacán by the violent Jalisco cartel. The rural area is traversed by dirt roads, through which they fear Jalisco gunmen could penetrate at a time when the homicide rate in Michoacán has spiked to levels not seen since 2013.
- Charlotte Observer
An Army private first class was arraigned on sexual assault charges before a military judge.
- Architectural Digest
When it came to the lighting in his home, Pardo drew inspiration from the insides of fruits, nuts, and seeds, as well as sea creatures and machine parts.Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- The Week
GOP officials are reportedly worried controversial pro-Trump House members could run for Senate, governor
Georgia and Arizona were two of the most crucial states in this election cycle, and it looks like they'll remain at the forefront of the coming battle within the Republican Party, The New York Times reports.Things have grown tense in the Sun Belt states, where mainstream Republicans are hoping to fend off President Trump's allies. In Arizona, for instance, the state GOP is trying to censure Republican Gov. Doug Ducey — as well as former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Cindy McCain — in part because he has been "deemed insufficiently beholden to Trump," Politico reports. In Georgia, there's a faction on the right that wants to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has faced Trump's wrath for not supporting his election conspiracy theories, in a gubernatorial primary in 2022.Both situations reportedly have the more traditional half of the Republican Party concerned — privately, the Times reports, GOP officials are concerned some high-profile members of the House that are considered staunch Trump loyalists who have "propagated fringe conspiracy theories," like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), as well as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), could launch campaigns for Senate seats and governorships in their states in 2022. So, even as, per USA Today, Republican senators ponder whether to vote to convict President Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, and then potentially vote to bar him from future public office, their fight against him is seemingly far from over. Read more at The New York Times, Politico, and USA Today.More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious The worst-case scenario for America's immediate future
- The Telegraph
Wearing a giant furry hat, black leather jacket and a beaming smile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un introduced “the world’s strongest weapon” – a new submarine-launched ballistic missile – at a nighttime parade on Thursday in Pyongyang. The display of North Korea’s military might followed a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party, during which leader Kim denounced the United States as his country's “foremost principal enemy” and vowed to strengthen the North’s nuclear war deterrent. On Friday, the reclusive regime’s state media released 100 photos of a mass celebration of the national armory, including tanks and rocket launchers, all flanked by rows of marching soldiers, noticeably not wearing masks. Military aircraft were illuminated by LED lights as they flew overhead in formation. “They’d like us to notice that they’re getting more proficient with larger solid rocket boosters,” tweeted Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert and author of ‘Kim Jong Un and the Bomb’, as the parade unfolded in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square. As the spectacle reached its climax, the military rolled out what analysts said appeared to be new variants of solid-fuel short-range ballistic missiles – which are more quickly deployed than liquid-fuelled versions - and four Pukguksong-class submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
- Yahoo News Video
A friendly $100 wager over the 2020 presidential election has landed in a Florida small claims court.
A chunk of stimulus payments are missing in action, thanks to a mix up that put as many as 13 million checks into invalid bank accounts.Why it matters: The IRS (by law) was supposed to get all payments out by Friday. Now the onus could shift to Americans to claim the money on their tax refund — further delaying relief to struggling, lower-income Americans.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What's going on: The newest COVID-19 relief bill — signed in the final days of 2020 — mandated the $600 payment to those making up to $75,000 per year (or 150,000 for joint filers) get out by Jan. 15. * The fast turnaround meant “some payments may have been sent to an account that may be closed or, is or no longer active, or unfamiliar,” according to the IRS website.To get a sense of the speed: It took 19 days to distribute half the first-round payments last spring, but two-thirds of payments were out the door just a week after the latest bill became law, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. * Billions of those dollars are in the process of being returned to the IRS by tax preparers because of the error, though the IRS would not say how many payments were incorrectly deposited. * Jackson Hewitt estimates funds were deposited in 13 million accounts that were no longer open.How it works: These accounts are typically set up by tax prep companies, most often used by financially constrained taxpayers to get their refunds faster. * Some tax preparers told CNBC that the money would be deposited starting Feb. 1. What’s next: It’s up to those whose payments haven’t been disbursed by today to claim what’s owed on their tax return. * “You can wait until the money shows up, or you’re going to file your return and claim your money there,” Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center and former official at the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Analysis, tells Axios. * “There’s going to be confusion” about which option to pick.Of note: Any refunds that also claim the earned-income tax credit — which offsets tax bills for lower income workers — can’t be issued before mid-February, prolonging the delay as the Washington Post points out.What to watch: The incoming Biden administration wants to issue another round of direct payments. Depending on the timing, the IRS could be juggling those checks at the height of tax season. * “I can never say with IRS that things are impossible, but it's going to be a challenge to get those payments out during filing season,” Holtzblatt says.You can check the status of your stimulus payment — and whether you can expect it by paper check, debit card or direct deposit — here.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
The man accused of throwing a fire extinguisher during the Washington, D.C. riots last week has been arrested. Robert Sanford, a retired Chester Fire Department firefighter, was arrested on Thursday and charged with assault on a police officer, among other offenses. Attorney Enrique Latoison argues Sanford went on a free bus to the rally for Trump at the Capitol, but he did not enter the government building.
- Associated Press
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday blamed an inadequate education in American civics as “the root cause” of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, while making no mention of President Donald Trump's role in the attack that sent Congress into hiding. Since Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, Noem has tried to deflect blame from the president while calling for an end to political violence.
- The Telegraph
The one-time lover of Spain's former king has accused him of ordering the secret service to deliver death threats to her after their relationship was exposed. Speaking as a witness in a court hearing on Friday, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein stated that her life and those of her children were threatened by the then head of Spain’s CNI secret service, General Félix Sanz Roldán, in her London hotel room in May 2012. The beginning of the alleged campaign of harassment came weeks after a disastrous elephant-hunting trip to Botswana had led to her relationship with Juan Carlos becoming public knowledge. “Sanz Roldán and King Juan Carlos were at great pains to make it clear that it was Juan Carlos who was giving orders to Sanz Roldán, that these orders were coming from the top,” the 56-year-old businesswoman said, speaking to the court in Madrid via a video link from Westminster Magistrates Court. The comments came in a trial in which former Spanish police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo faced charges of slander and false accusation against Mr Sanz Roldán. Mr Villarejo was facing defamation charges after he accused Mr Sanz Roldán of threatening Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein during a 2017 television interview. Mr Villarejo has been remanded in custody since November 2017 while he is investigated on dozens of counts of alleged illegal espionage and other offences. In court, Mr Villarejo said he had been commissioned by the CNI to meet Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein in London in 2015 “to gain her confidence” and convince her to hand over sensitive documents and defuse the dispute between her and Juan Carlos. Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein ratified that she had told Mr Villarejo that Mr Sanz Roldán had said he “could not guarantee my safety and that of my children” during a meeting she said was arranged by Juan Carlos in London’s The Connaught hotel. Since a tape of the conversation between Mr Villarejo and Ms zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was leaked to the media in 2018, she and other associates of Juan Carlos have been placed under investigation in Switzerland for alleged money laundering. After prosecutors at Spain’s Supreme Court also opened a probe into the former monarch last June, Juan Carlos left Spain and has remained in exile in UAE since.
- The Independent
National Guard authorised to use lethal force at Capitol as they prepare for potential inauguration protests
Thousands of troops with lethal weapons will be guarding the inauguration as threats of pro-Trump demonstration and attacks intensify
- Yahoo News Video
A white military veteran shot and wounded a 15-year-old girl when he fired his gun into a car carrying four Black teens during a tense confrontation at a Trump rally near the Iowa Capitol last month.