Spotlight: Oil Worker and Activist

With 20 years in the oil industry, John Pajak knows safety is essential. The Teamsters board member and president of the New Jersey Work Environment Council has joined with 75 other organizations to make sure federal safety guidelines aren't rolled back in New Jersey

John Pajak

Title: Oil worker and executive board member of Teamsters Local #77 at ConocoPhillips in Linden

Age: 47

Why he’s a player: With 20 years experience in the oil industry, he’s risen to become president of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of labor, environmental and community organizations striving to improve safety conditions in the workplace. He was instrumental in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishing a new policy in April, affording workers the right to accompany federal officials during inspections at 13,000 high-hazard workplaces nationwide.

Credit: NJ Spotlight
John Pajak, Teamsters board member and president of the New Jersey Work Environment Council.

Current battle: Has joined with 75 other organizations, including labor, environmental, public employee and education groups in opposing legislation (A-2486) to prohibit New Jersey from adopting new regulations that exceed federal government standards. They argue the bills would roll back decades of worker, environmental and community protections, ranging from requiring better respiratory equipment for firefighters, to bans on ocean dumping to prevention plans for facilities handling highly toxic chemicals.

How it would affect his job of loading and unloading oil tankers: “It would definitely hurt our ability to respond to a spill because we wouldn’t have the equipment needed to deal with it. Since a spill in the Arthur Kill more than a decade ago, New Jersey has required companies to prepare specific plans to deal with spills [beyond what is required by the federal government]. I’ve seen instances where having the proper equipment on site has helped contain a spill, unlike what’s happened in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Why bill proponents are advocating the change: They argue it would ease burdensome regulations that impair New Jersey’s business climate, creating opportunities for job creation.

What Pajak says in response: “Plants that blow up, close down and never reopen again—those jobs are lost. A safe, well-run plant is the best way of retaining jobs here in New Jersey.”

Why New Jersey needs tough regulations: “You can have a good company with a bad manager and a bad outcome without robust regulations.”

Hometown: Manalapan