In this file photo from Oct. 16, 2019, Robert Taylor (left), a leader of Concerned Citizens of St. John, walks next to Pat Bryant of Justice and Beyond during a two-week march from Reserve to Baton Rouge to protest the petrochemical industry’s significant presence in the River Parishes. The march was organized by Coalition Against Death Alley. (Photo by Ted Quant)
You, I and every other American taxpayer helped out Marathon Petroleum during the worst of the pandemic. Then, the same year it secured its $2.1 billion in federal tax benefits — the most of any U.S. oil company — Marathon let go almost 1,920 employees.
The “reductions,” to use Marathon’s word, included 45 workers at Marathon’s refinery in St. John the Baptist Parish who probably don’t say “reduced” when describing what the company did to them.
Marathon grabbed up our money but let go our neighbors. “Understanding the benefits that Marathon received to presumably stimulate them into maintaining full employment,” one of the laid-off workers told reporter Chris Staudinger, “it’s frustrating to have still been chopped.”
But in Louisiana, it’s not uncommon for industry to get government help — most often tax exemptions from the state — only to cut workers. The mere promise of jobs is enough to make state officials genuflect before the companies offering them.
Even when a company says up front it’s going to double the amount of pollution — consider Formosa’s plan to emit 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year in St. James Parish — we are told to pipe down lest we chase away potential jobs.
Robert Taylor, the 80-year-old leader of Concerned Citizens of St. John, made it clear in a Thursday phone interview that no number of jobs justifies people breathing air that’s killing them. When Taylor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, he moved her out of state. His daughter also left because, according to Taylor, she and three other Black women in St. John developed an autoimmune disease that only 1 in 5 million people get.
Taylor lives closer to the Denka plant (formerly Dupont) than to Marathon and mostly blames that plant for his family’s poor health, but he says none of the companies in St. John that boast about job creation provide evidence.
“All these companies, they guard their personnel records with their lives,” Taylor said. “There’s no access to anything about the demographics of employees. We’ve been fighting with (Marathon) as well as with DuPont/Denka to give us the statistics to let us know — since they brag about all the jobs. We’re always trying to find out what percentage of the population that has been impacted by them the most are they employing.”
But again, who cares?
“I would not trade off the health of the people here for any job at all,” Taylor said. “What good is a job going to do you if you’re dying? I know a guy who has retired (from Marathon); he got his son on. Both he and his son contracted the same form of cancer, but they are better able to deal with it and get the right medical care. They both survived the cancer, but the average person that lives here, which is 99% of us, we don’t have the kind of medical insurance and care that Marathon can give to the few token Blacks that they do hire.”
On the last day of the legislative session, Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) asked the Louisiana House to extend the current 5% federal earned income tax credit by five years, calling it “good policy that … serves working people at the bottom of the totem pole.” Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath), the leader of the Republican Caucus, objected to the projected cost of $20.5 million a year.
“This institution,” Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) said in defense of Duplessis’ bill, “gives everything away for corporate, for business. We give it away. We don’t even think about it…. But when it comes to the people of our state, we’re going to have these unbelievable philosophical questions and concerns about whether it’s the right thing to do.”
In May, Ivey expressed dismay at his House colleagues who approved a bill that would have let companies getting tax breaks to create jobs keep private the salaries they pay their hires. That bill died in the Senate, but the message was still sent that, just like the feds, Louisiana doesn’t care much what corporations do after taking our money.
According to a report from BailOut Watch, 77 oil and gas companies received $8.24 billion from the CARES Act tax refunds while laying off nearly 60,000 employees.
That’s one of many reasons we know the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong when it ruled in 2010 that corporations are people. People are capable of shame.
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