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State treasurers pressure Marathon to end lockout at Minnesota refinery

(Reuters) - A group of state treasurers are pressuring Marathon Petroleum to end a lockout at a Minnesota refinery that has left 200 union members out of work for two months, according to a Tuesday letter the officials sent to the company.

FILE PHOTO: A Marathon Petroleum banner covers an Andeavor sign outside the El Paso refinery in El Paso, Texas, U.S., October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Julio-Cesar Chavez

Marathon has brought in out of state workers to operate its St. Paul Park refinery as it negotiates with members of the Teamsters Local 120 over new proposals by management that employees say threaten their jobs.

The union says the replacement workers have not been properly trained. The company denied this claim.

In the letter reviewed by Reuters, the Democratic state treasurers of Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Oregon told Marathon’s sustainability chair they are concerned that the lockout will have a long-term impact on safety and reliability.

“With the potential for losses of lives [at the refinery] there is great exposure for these companies in terms of lawsuits and reputational harm,” said Illinois state treasurer Michael Frerichs.

Minnesota politicians, including Governor Tim Walz, have previously urged the U.S. refiner to end the prolonged lockout, saying it could create safety problems at the refinery.

Frerichs told Reuters the group of treasurers are working together on sustainability issues, and some have investments in the refiner, he added without elaborating. The group has requested a meeting with Marathon’s sustainability chair, Abdulaziz F. Alkhayyal.

The union opposes Marathon’s proposals that could cut some 50 jobs at the plant and subcontract out maintenance work. The company is the second-largest independent U.S. refiner, with plants in Illinois, Minnesota, and other states.

“By locking us out they’re showing us this is what they’re going toward, that we’re not coming back,” said Matthew Foss, a St. Paul Park firefighter employed at the refinery for more than 22 years. He said workers risked coronavirus infection to keep the refinery operating through the pandemic.

The 102,000 barrel-per-day plant is currently being staffed by “trained and qualified Marathon Petroleum personnel,” Marathon said. The company said it does not foresee supply disruptions in its operating regions.

“We have continued negotiating in good faith with representatives of the Teamsters Local 120 throughout their strike, and we look forward to additional opportunities to work toward reaching agreement on the company’s and the union’s proposals,” a spokesman for Marathon said last week.

Reporting by Laura Sanicola; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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