Workers walk out at oil refineries across USA

Members of the United Steelworkers who work in oil refineries and chemical plants have walked out at nine sites across the USA – beginning strikes aimed at putting pressure oil companies to agree to a new national contract covering workers at 63 plants.

The strikes are the first held in support of a nationwide pay deal since 1980. The plants being hit account for more than 10% of U.S. refining capacity.

Royal Dutch Shell, the lead industry negotiator, indicated talks had broken down.

“Shell refused to provide us with a counter-offer and left the bargaining table,” USW International President Leo Gerard said. “We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage.”

“We remain committed to resolving our differences with USW at the negotiating table and hope to resume negotiations as early as possible,” Shell said.

Shell activated a strike contingency plan at its s joint venture refinery in Deer Park, Texas, to keep operating normally.

Walk outs took place at Exxon Mobil Corp’s refinery in Beaumont, Texas; two Marathon Petroleum refineries; LyondellBasell’s plant near Houston; Marathon’s refinery in Kentucky; Tesoro Corp’s Benicia and Martinez plants in California and its refinery in Anacortes, Washington.

The expiring three-year national contract covers 30,000 hourly paid workers at plants that together account for two-thirds of U.S. refining capacity.

The USW said in a text message sent to its members that the latest offer from companies was “insulting”.

The latest rejected proposal was the fourth offer turned down by the Steelworkers since negotiations for a new three-year agreement began on Januray 21st.

The Steelworkers are seeking annual pay raises double the size of those in the last agreement.

It also wants work that has been given in the past to non-union contractors to start going to its members, a tighter policy to prevent workplace fatigue, and reductions in members’ out-of-pocket payments for healthcare.

Independent refiners, such as Valero Energy Corp, have made big profits recently by tapping cheap crudes from the U.S. shale revolution, while integrated companies such as Exxon have seen their U.S. refining units provide a cushion against low prices hurting their upstream businesses

“Even though the refiners’ margins may not be as high as they were before the oil price decrease, the refiners are still making money,” USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said.

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