Mike Mitchell Jr., affectionately known as “Mitch” to his friends and colleagues, works as a Process Safety Representative for the Refinery’s United Steel Workers (USW) Local 675, which represents certain Operations and Maintenance employees at Torrance Refinery.
Mitch and his family have a long history with the Torrance Refinery, as he is a fourth generation employee. Mitch’s father worked at the Refinery for more than thirty years, instilling a strong work ethic in his son, along with an early desire to work at the plant. His grandfather and an aunt also worked at the Refinery for a number of years. Mitch takes great pride in the fact that his grandfather was the second African-American hired at the Refinery in 1942, during World War II.
Mitch began his career at the Torrance Refinery as a contractor, providing maintenance and facilities support. Three years later, he responded to the call of duty by serving in the United States Army. Of that experience, Mitch says, “Serving in the military was personally rewarding. The Army taught me professionalism and ways to communicate with people from different walks of life and backgrounds.” Upon leaving the military to focus on his family life, Mitch returned to the Refinery where he has now worked as a full-time employee for more than 17 years, noting that, “I returned here [to the refinery] because this is home for me.”
To re-energize his career, Mitch started as an Operator at the Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) Unit, a process unit that converts heavier oil into lighter, highly-valued products like gasoline. Over time, he successfully progressed to become the unit’s Head Operator.
“We trained for many hours before we were assigned to our unit; and once there, we experienced more unit-specific training before even starting our jobs,” said Mitch. “As Operators, we make ‘rounds,’ meaning we literally walk throughout the unit, using our training and senses to monitor unit performance. If necessary, we take action to prevent any potential issues to maintain safe operations.”
In addition to being Head Operator and USW Process Safety Representative, Mitch volunteers as a member of the Torrance Refinery Fire Brigade, trained in various aspects of industrial firefighting. He also participates in joint training with the Torrance Fire Department to maintain his emergency response preparedness skills and abilities.
Mitch has seen a positive change over the past two years since the refinery was acquired by new owners. “We truly have been learning as an organization since we became the Torrance Refining Company [a subsidiary of PBF Energy]. Here at the Refinery, our people really do care, so we actively work to keep one another and the community safe. I know some people may not always believe it, but I know that safety truly is a priority for us. We do care about the environment, and always try to do better to keep this business sustainable for all – our workers and the community.”