St. Paul Park Refining Co., LLC, doing business as Western Refining Petitioner
National Labor Relations Board Respondent St. Paul Park Refining Co., LLC, doing business as Western Refining Respondent
National Labor Relations Board Petitioner
Submitted: March 13, 2019
Labor Relations Board
SHEPHERD, ARNOLD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
SHEPHERD, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Paul Park Refining Company (SPPRC) petitions for review and
the National Labor Relations Board applies for enforcement of
the Board's order determining SPPRC unlawfully suspended
an employee for engaging in protected concerted activity in
violation of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.
§ 151 et seq. Having jurisdiction pursuant to
29 U.S.C. § 160(e) and (f), we deny SPPRC's petition
and enforce the order.
operates an oil refinery with 450 employees in St. Paul Park,
Minnesota. The refinery maintains constant operations,
processing crude oil into products like gasoline. The
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local No. 120 (the
Union) represents some of the refinery employees, including
vacancy relief operator Richard Topor, who had served as a
Union steward for several years. Topor's supervisors at
the refinery were Gary Regenscheid and Dale Caswell.
the hazards of refinery work, both SPPRC's
collective-bargaining agreement and its employee handbook
emphasize that employees must notify supervisors if they
believe work conditions are unsafe and assist in remedying
the dangerous conditions. SPPRC employees follow written
procedures to perform various tasks, and any change in a
procedure must be documented using a step-change form. SPPRC
also maintains a "safety stop" policy giving all
employees the authority to stop a job due to safety concerns
and discuss any appropriate mitigation measures with
supervisors. SPPRC's employment documents state that
workers may raise safety concerns without fear of retaliation
and specifically mention new or nonstandard procedures as
situations that might warrant a safety stop.
November 4, 2016, Caswell assigned Michael Rennert, one of
Topor's coworkers, the task of restarting a machine known
as the Penex. Doing so required injecting hydrochloric acid
from pressurized cylinders into the Penex to clear out water
and rust. Only a few weeks prior, SPPRC implemented a new
technique for injecting the acid that involved heating the
cylinders with steam. However, no one had updated the written
procedure to reflect the new method. Never having restarted
the Penex before, Rennert asked Topor about the safety of the
procedure. Topor questioned the safety of the new
and Topor discussed their concerns with Eric Rowe, a
unit-process engineer, and requested a written procedure.
Rowe prepared a step-change form for the new Penex cleaning
procedure, which supervisors, including operations
superintendent Briana Jung, signed. The form included an
instruction stating that other hydrochloric acid cylinders
should not be in the same area as the one that will be
afternoon, Regenscheid and Jung reassigned the task to Topor,
giving him the step-change form. Topor noted that, contrary
to the form's instructions, other cylinders were near the
cylinder to be heated. Regenscheid instructed Topor to
mitigate the hazard by placing insulation blankets over the
cylinders that were not in use, but Topor insisted the
procedure called for removing the additional cylinders from
the area, fearing Regenscheid's suggestion was unsafe and
risked explosion. Topor wanted to initiate a safety stop, but
Regenscheid again said to use insulation. In response, Topor
repeated his safety stop request, asking that the safety
department review Regenscheid's suggestion. Topor began
filling out a safety-stop form.
Topor to fill the form out later, Regenscheid and Jung met
with him at the Penex, where Topor again repeated his safety
concerns. Topor explained that if the restart process had
changed to allow insulation blankets, the step-change form
needed to be updated accordingly. He added that he felt he
was being pressured to perform the task despite his safety
concerns. Topor and Regenscheid began speaking in loud
voices. Eventually, Regenscheid and Jung sent Topor home. As
Topor was leaving, Regenscheid asked him to return the
step-change form, but Topor did not hear him and did not
comply. Eventually, Regenscheid gave Topor a ride to a
different building to change out of his work clothes and
leave; they did not speak.
human resource employees told Jung and Regenscheid to
document the events of the day for an investigation.
Regenscheid wrote that Topor had refused to do assigned work
and behaved insubordinately. Jung wrote that Topor had
refused to discuss mitigation, which she also viewed as
insubordination. She named several witnesses to the
encounter, including Rennert. Three days later, Jung modified
her statement, adding that Topor was loud and had pointed his
finger at Regenscheid. During its investigation, SPPRC
interviewed only some of the witnesses Jung had named,
relying almost entirely on supervisors' accounts while
declining to interview fellow unit employees like Rennert.
During his interview, Topor denied raising his voice or
pointing his finger at Regenscheid.
SPPRC issued Topor a 10-day unpaid suspension and a final
written warning, citing inappropriate behavior and
insubordination. A few ...