Q11. How did banal social and organizational character of Unocal Corporation contribute to the silent
spill in the Guadalupe?
polluting the ground water, beach, and other habitats. It is considered the largest oil spill in US history.
problems that involve social, organizational and technical processes. It is through the seemingly harmless
organizational environment that this oil spill was created, left unacknowledged and denied.
Diluents were first used and spilled in the oil fields as early as 1953 and went on for almost 40 years.
Inter-organizational complicity: work systems regiment how workers relate to each other and their
environment. Institutional assumptions were integrated into worker consciousness through daily
enactment. In this way spill oil was considered unimportant. Organizations can shape the beliefs and
values of their employees. In this way organizational actors (workers) are directed to perform based on
organizational scripts (rules, protocols, routines). Dumping hundreds of gallons of diluent into the dunes,
as long as it was one gallon at a time, was considered fine. Leaks became an expected part of a day in the
life of oilfield workers.
Unocal operated under a hierarchical seniority system. Fieldworkers relied on foremen/supervisors for
instruction, guidance and possible promotions. The presence of hierarchy is seen as the need to guide
subordinates in their work. This has consequences, as strict hierarchies can decrease the sense of personal
responsibility because it relieves people from responsibility of making decisions concerning what is
socially right or wrong. Instead of reporting spills, fieldworkers turned to denial and secrecy. Supervisors
were giving half-WUXWKVZKLFKILHOGZRUNHUVFKRVHWREHOLHYHEHFDXVHWKH\GLGQ¶Wwant to lose their jobs by
having the oilfield shutdown. 7KLVFDXVHDIRUPRI³GRXEOHWKLQN´ZKHUHZRUNHUVWKRXJKWWKDWRLOVSLOOV
were wrong only if they were responsible for the spill. In Unocal, the managers were seen as responsible.
In seniority systems, new workers rely on those above them because they already did their jobs and
learned how to manage and inform the new workers on how to perform field duties. Fieldworkers were
not in a position to report spills outside of the hierarchy without breaking rank and risking sanctions.
Maps of the oil spills kept by local field managers were found, but they were not reported. ,QWKH¶V
when the spill was very apparent some fieldworkers did report to their managers, but the managers
ignored these reports. 7KHPDQDJHU¶VUHVLVWDQFHWRUHSRUWLQJZDVEHFDXVH these managers once workers in
the oil fields, and were therefore seen as responsible for all the years of spillage that were not reported.
chance they will be personally associated with an offense, they would endanger their career because of
ratting out coworkers and managers. 5HSRUWLQJZRXOGDIIHFWWKHSHUVRQ¶VZRUNKRXUVFKDQFHRI
promotion and even keeping their jobs. A chance of promotion meant people stayed quiet.
A Culture of Silence: There is an existing sub-culture that normalized spills. Working at Unocal formed
a worldview which normalized oil spills. Oil work has a strong fraternal work culture. Solidarity between
oil workers was because work conditions required teamwork. This unity led to the cover up of spills,
which became understandable, since reporting would threaten the entire workforce. The pressure to keep
WKHRLOVSLOOVDVHFUHWZDVIRXQGDPRQJDOOZRUNHUVWKURXJKRXWWKHV\VWHP¶VKLHUarchy. The threat of the
field shutting down, job loss and the social pressure to be quiet, caused workers not to report spills. By
reporting, workers jeopardized themselves and their coworkers. These reasons were correct, because
when the spills were publicized, the field shutdown.
Inter-Organizational location: 7KHILHOG¶VVWUXFWXUDOLVRODWLRQIURPRXWVLGHLQWHUIHUHQFHDQGFRUSRUDWH
incentives, caused workers not to report spills. The reportage of spills had to go to the top of the
corporation before it would be reported to authorities. The reporting usually stopped in the field because
supervisors knew that reporting the spills meant financial and criminal problems. The field would
shutdown, the fines were enormous ($5000-$50,000 a day per violation of negligence). Supervisors and
expectations. The incentives to continue producing oil at the lowest costs, caused workers to promote oil
production and not to report spills.