A large labor union said Marathon Petroleum has increasingly compromised safety at its St. Paul Park refinery, including dismantling part of its in-house fire department.

Marathon, which bought the refinery in 2018, bristled at the allegations, saying that its firefighting capabilities are "robust" and that it has an "outstanding safety record."

The report issued by the Laborers Union comes three months after the start of an ongoing labor dispute at the Marathon St. Paul Park refinery. The Laborers are not directly involved in that dispute, but they represent workers at union contractors that have been replaced by nonunion contractors at Marathon.

Teamsters Local 120, which represents about 200 workers employed directly by Marathon, went on strike Jan. 21, primarily over the company's proposal to contract out some maintenance jobs to outside, nonunion companies.

Ohio-based Marathon, the nation's largest oil refinery company, has continued operating the plant with management employees from St. Paul Park and its other refineries. Marathon acquired the St. Paul Park refinery in 2018 as part of its $23 billion buyout of Andeavor LLC.

Since then, union leaders said Marathon has increasingly relied on nonunion contractors — from repair projects carried out by pipe fitters to cleaning work by laborers.

"It has moved from overwhelmingly union contractors to nonunion contractors from out of state," said Kevin Pranis, marketing manager for the Laborers Union in Minnesota and North Dakota.

At the same time, Marathon has let safety slip at St. Paul Park, according to the report, which is largely built on interviews with striking in-plant employees and workers from outside contractors.

Workers provided "multiple examples" of "hydrocarbon" — oil and gas — releases or chemical releases due to contractors' errors, the report said.

They also told of unsafe work conditions, including improper handling of flammable chemicals. And workers brought in to replace union tradesworkers had an "obvious lack of experience and training," the Laborers' report said.

In a statement, Marathon said that "any suggestion that individuals who perform work at our refinery are not trained and qualified to do so is baseless." The company also said it has a "rigorous process" for contractors, "selecting companies that have exemplary safety records; [and] demonstrate a strong health and safety culture for their employees and concern for our community."

Marathon said its St. Paul Park safety performance has been recognized by several independent parties, including in 2020 by the Minnesota Safety Council.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows no citations at the refinery since Marathon took over in 2018, though it's not clear if OSHA has inspected the plant.

"Many refinery workers realize they cannot count on OSHA to protect them, because the agency may only become aware of safety hazards after something bad has happened," the report said.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003