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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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GRIFFIN: In congressional hearings after the fatal explosion at BP's Texas refinery in 2005, lawmakers asked BP's then CEO: "Did workers warn about safety issues at the plant?" He said they had not. There were questions about whether they feared retaliation or speaking up.

(on camera): Bottom line: after pressure from lawmakers, BP opened an independent ombudsman office to manage and hear the safety concerns of its workers. It's run by a former federal judge, just not here in Alaska.

It's a very small office, tucked away inside this office building here in Washington, D.C. But British Petroleum has been running this employee complaints program for several years.

(voice-over): The independent former judge who runs the unit refused to comment to CNN.

Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak was one of those who pressured BP.

(on camera): They tell the reason that office came to fruition was because of safety.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: It was because of safety, yes. And safety concerns continue yet today.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Since the ombudsman office opened, 112 BP workers have come forward to file reports; 35 of them deal with, quote, "system integrity or safety issues." And the ombudsman office says they are extremely serious.

But keeping them honest, sources close to the ombudsman office tells CNN, BP doesn't like it and its independent investigators, and that it doesn't like employees reporting safety problems outside the company.

A union representative says some BP workers who complained have faced retaliation. Jeanne Pascal agrees.

PASCAL: Many of the employees who have actually reported safety, health, environmental and safety issues, particularly in Alaska, have been retaliated against, they've been demoted, they've been terminated, and they've also been blackballed.

GRIFFIN: A BP spokesman tells CNN the company has, quote, a "zero tolerance" policy regarding retaliation. The company, he says, is unaware of any unresolved cases that violate the policy.

And there's this: not long after he took over as chairman of BP America, Lamar McKay met with Congressman Stupak.

STUPAK: One of the first things Mr. McKay said was, I'm going to replace the ombudsman. I want to shut her down. We asked, what do you mean? He wasn't even on the job, but a few weeks, maybe a month or two, and start wanting to shut down the ombudsman. We encouraged him not to do so.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Doesn't it stun you he would make that remark?

STUPAK: Yes, it did. We were shocked he would bring it up in the first meeting, and then second meeting we had with them. The logic was, well, we'll make things better. Well, we don't see --

GRIFFIN: Their logic was "Trust us"?

STUPAK: Trust us.

GRIFFIN: You don't?

STUPAK: No.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): BP has said it can do a good job investigating complaints through an established internal system without the ombudsman's office.

PASCAL: I think at some point a reasonable person has to come to the conclusion that this is a company that has no intention of changing its mode of operation, that the dollar is going to be paramount, and that the health, safety, and safety of American workers and the American environment are a secondary or tertiary concern.

GRIFFIN: Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP promised Stupak in writing that its watchdog unit would be in place for at least another year. But a source inside the ombudsman's office tells CNN, "Frankly, I'm surprised we're still here."

Drew Griffin, CNN, Seattle.

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