Two Words: Hydrofluoric Acid
It’s the most dangerous chemical you may never have heard of and its at the center of a massive strike at the Marathon Oil refinery in St. Paul Park MN: Hydrofluoric Acid.
Why does Hydrofluoric Acid matter? It’s highly toxic, it vaporizes in the air, it has the potential to be lethal miles away and its right in our backyard at the St. Paul Park refinery.
Hydrofluoric Acid has been banned in California and there are movements across the country to ban its use in refineries. A formal petition was filed with the EPA in 2019 to ban the use of the substance nationwide. According to the petition: “Such regulations are necessary to ensure that the highly toxic substance is no longer used in oil refineries, given its inherently dangerous nature, the occurrence of “near miss” accidents, the availability of safer alternatives…”
“The fluoride ion can enter the body, potentially interfering with calcium metabolism, which can cause death by cardiac arrest… When a person is exposed, pain and tissue damage does not manifest immediately and can be delayed for several hours… even exposure at a lethal level can often go unnoticed —as little as 25 square inches of exposure can be fatal.” The potential for exposure to go unnoticed can exacerbate by delaying necessary medical intervention.
The oil companies know this chemical is dangerous. A industry sponsored study conducted in 1986 concluded that the vaporized chemical would have be lethal to humans even miles away from the source.
The St. Paul Park refinery is one of the roughly 33% of refineries operating in the US currently using Hydrofluoric Acid in the refining process. Currently, the deadly chemical is being monitored and handled by workers who may not be familiar with the facility, may not be well trained, and may not be capable of identifying issues before they become catastrophic.
Even in the hands of trained professionals there have been several near miss incidents with the chemical in recent years. There were incidents at refineries in at least Torrence California, Phillidelphia PA, and of course Superior WI. The latter of which necessitated an evacuation of the surrounding area in 2018 after an explosion at the refinery.
According to workers on the picket line, one of the replacements working in the unit that handles the acid said he was a High School Shop Teacher making some extra money working during the strike. Without offending High School Teachers, I’d rather leave the handling of a chemical this deadly to the professionals.
Marathon’s actions to this point appear to completely disregard the risks posed by the chemical. According to the Union, because of the risk posed by Hydrofluoric Acid, they offered to return to work last night after further talks with Marathon were confirmed. The company reportedly denied access to the workers who are trained and familiar with the facility, trusting our safety instead to what may be a high school shop teacher.
Corporate Transparency Reporting
TACOMA WA- As UNFI (NYSE: UNFI) stock value plummets, company executives are taking heat for what some view as wasteful spending practices. Critics say executives are throwing money away on personal power struggles even as company stock value has dropped over 90% since 2015.
The latest criticism stems from an employee contract dispute related to the company’s relocation of their Tacoma WA Distribution Center. Last month, in a landmark decision, an arbitrator sided with the Tacoma Employees in their dispute. The arbitrator ordered the company to allow Tacoma employees to move to the new facility with their existing pay and benefits. The good news for investors is that the damages awarded are still relatively cheap, since not all of the layoffs have been completed. The bad news, however, is that UNFI executives are defying the legally binding decision, increasing the company’s liability by roughly $1.2 Million per month (not including potentially millions in legal costs).
The decision not to abide by the award is baffling many industry insiders who said the company is extremely unlikely to prevail. “Arbitration decisions rarely get overturned. It’s like they are throwing a Hail Mary pass from their own 1-Yard line… far more likely to backfire than to help in any real way. Except in this case, its not a game, its potentially tens of millions of dollars they are gambling with,” said one expert with close knowledge of the issue.
The company’s liability compounds exponentially when you factor in the impact of this decision on an already tenuous labor situation for UNFI nationally. Workers from across the country have jumped on the hashtag #FUnfi and are calling for a nationwide UNFI work stoppage. UNFI executives shirking employment contracts will certainly not help them avoid that outcome.
UNFI’s Chief Legal Officer Jill Sutton appears to be calling the shots in this situation. She has been quoted in news outlets calling the arbitrators decision “unlawful”. Sutton’s actions raise questions: Is she spending company resources to save face after the embarrassing arbitration defeat? Are departures in her department due to dissension within her own ranks? Is CEO Steve Spinner personally involved in these decisions, or has he been kept in the dark?
This isn’t the first time UNFI leadership has come under fire for how it spends money. Last year, Yahoo Finance reported that Spinner’s compensation was nearly three times higher than the median CEO salary for companies with similar market capitalization.
Keep an eye on UNFI: my sources tell me their upcoming shareholder meeting could get interesting.
David Gilbert-Pederson, Reporting
A labor dispute with one of the nation’s largest grocery distributors is shaping to be one of the biggest in recent memory. Corporate Transparency has confirmed through multiple sources that United Natural Foods Inc (UNFI) is facing labor action in multiple states that could affect both investors and consumers at large grocery chains like Cub Foods, Whole Foods Market, Coborn’s and SuperValu.
The campaign against UNFI appears to be powered by rank and file members of the Teamsters Union pushing for action on social media. Public social media posts with the hashtag “#FUnfi” include UNFI workers in at least Washington, Minnesota, California, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Indiana and Oregon. If the Union is indeed planning nationwide work stoppages, it is unclear if UNFI could find enough replacement workers to keep grocery store shelves stocked and keep the dispute from affecting its major customers.
The dispute seems to center around UNFI’s purchase of grocery distributor SuperValu last year. My sources tell me that UNFI has began either subcontracting or moving significant portions of work in some areas, affecting the livelihoods of longtime employees and potentially lowering food safety standards for many of the food products we take for granted every day. According to Wall Street investment analysts, UNFI stock value has dropped over 77% in the past year, and in an increasingly competitive market it is unclear how power struggles with their workforce will benefit their investors or their customers.
I called a senior level UNFI official to get a comment from the company regarding the impending actions. He abruptly hung up when I mentioned the workers grievances and the possibility of work stoppages. I had hoped to get answers about how the contracting out of former good paying union jobs to lower paid workers fit into their “Mission to transform the world of food,” and in particular their commitment to “do the right thing: put safety and integrity at the forefront of everything we do.”
Many questions remain unanswered: Do UNFI’s clients and customers know about the employee actions? Does UNFI have a plan to deal with work stoppages? How will UNFI guarantee that citizens around the country have access to affordable and healthy food in the event of a national work stoppages?
Reporting for CoporateTransparency.org
Uber has been in the news lately… for the wrong reasons. It seems what is a toxic corporate culture is spilling over into the public eye, affecting the bottom line, and investor money. While Uber is setting up for an IPO that, at one time, was projected to be one of the hottest initial offerings of 2017. In the past two months some experts have cooled on their projections given the company’s struggles lately and the exodus of staff escaping what appears to be a toxic corporate culture. Read more here
The root of these problems for many companies seems to be the way that they view their business. Corporations that view their business as a way to provide a benefit to society seem to be more successful and have less of these types of issues. Look no further than some of America’s most successful people (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey etc.) to see examples of this. What the above individuals have in common is they all sought to add value to the marketplace. They focused on long term growth rather than high risk short term goals.
This “Value Added” mentality leads successful companies to invest in talent and create a culture where talent at every level of their business is valued and encouraged. Contrast that with the recent leaked video of Senior leadership at UBER berating an entry level driver for having opinions.
We have yet to see for certain exactly how much impact Uber’s culture will have on their bottom line. But one thing is for sure, in this writer’s opinion long-term vision and successful talent management is part of the recipe that investors should look for.
“MyPillow is proud of its Minnesota workers and supports all Minnesotans that work hard for a living.”
MyPillow announced Thursday that they are severing ties with trucking companies FLE/LME in response to customer concerns over the ongoing issue with the trucking firms. Corporatetransparency.org received the following statement from MyPillow CAO Joseph Springer:
‘MyPillow hires a third-party broker to arrange trucking and was not aware of any issues with LME/FLE until it received the press release issued by CorporateTransparancey.org on February 15, 2017.
While MyPillow is not a party to any dispute between LME/FLE and its workers, MyPillow understands that some of its customers have raised a concern regarding LME/FLE and for that reason, MyPillow has notified its trucking broker to stop using LME/FLE. MyPillow is proud of its Minnesota workers and supports all Minnesotans that work hard for a living.’
It is refreshing to see a company that takes pride in its Minnesota roots and actually do the right thing for Minnesotans. I think we all wish we had more companies like this in our state.
Graeme Allen Reporting
Pressure to Drop FLE/LME Grows
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Corporate Transparency has already reported on the backlash some major Minnesota companies are facing as a result of their business ties to the trucking firms FLE and LME. FLE/LME executives put 95 families out of work with no notice three days before Thanksgiving and refused to pay them for work already completed which has put them under investigation from the State of Minnesota.
After several major customers have made statements indicating they would no longer use FLE/LME many are asking why Fleet Farm, Northern Tool, and Toro have not done the same. In fact, a Toro truck was seen in FLE’s parking lot the week before Christmas (picture below).
The public backlash from this story has been swift. Corporate Transparency has already reported on the numerous news articles that have came out as a result of LME/FLE’s treatment of these 95 families. Unconfirmed reports say that LME’s revenue is down roughly 50%, indicating a significant drop in clients.
Which begs the question: Why would Fleet Farm, Northern Tool, and Toro continue using LME/FLE for their freight, there are surely other carriers that could do the work for a similar price. Corporate Transparency has reached out to several LME/FLE customers and will update this story if a response is received.
Teamsters Local 120 of Blaine, Minnesota, the collective bargaining representative for the warehouse employees and drivers at SuperValu’s Hopkins, Minnesota, distribution center, has announced that its members have authorized a strike. According to its Facebook page, the members authorized the strike by a vote of 468-0. There are approximately 650 full-time warehouse employees and drivers at the Hopkins distribution center. Corporate Transparency reached out to Teamsters Local 120 President Tom Erickson, who stated that the strike authorization was “a rebuke to the Company” and “a total rejection of the Company’s concessionary proposals.” When asked what message he hoped that SuperValu would take from the vote, Erickson replied, “it’s a demonstration that our members are sticking together and acting as one, and they will continue to do so as we move forward.”
SuperValu and Teamsters Local 120 are signatory to a collective bargaining agreement, which expires at 11:59 p.m. on May 31, 2015. Teamsters Local 120 represents all full-time and part-time warehouse and maintenance employees and drivers at SuperValu’s Hopkins distribution center, comprising about 750 employees.
Teamsters Local 120 intends to hold strike authorization votes at five time periods on Friday, May 29, 2015.