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Latest News - January 2015

January 31, 2015
Workers at three local refineries on strike
Source: FUEL FIX
By: LM Sixel

Steelworkers union went on strike early Sunday morning against nine plants nationwide, including five in the Houston area.  The five locally include three refineries.  Shortly after midnight, workers walked out of LyondellBasell in Houston, Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Shell Deer Park Refinery, Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant and Marathon Houston Green Cogeneration facility in Texas City.

Marathon operator Bobby Wear said he got wind of the strike about 11:30 pm Saturday.  At midnight, he was relieved by a supervisor. Wear, who has worked at the plant for eight years, was carrying a picket sign on Sunday noon.  While he walked in the bright sunlight, a converted school bus driven by a union representative pulled up and gave him and his fellow picketer bottles of cold water.

He is ready, he said. “As long as it takes to get everything settled.”  Union members say there is a lot of support for the union’s effort to improve safety conditions. “It’s not the money,” said Joel Clay, an accident investigator who has worked at the Marathon refinery for 28 years. “It’s all about working safely.”  On Sunday afternoon, small groups of union employees picketed several entrances to Shell’s Deer Park refinery.

The picketers carried standardized signs proclaiming an “unfair labor practices strike” against Shell, and milled back and forth along the barbed-wired entrances to the chemical plant.  Occasional honks from cars passing on the nearby freeway drew cheers.  A few miles to the north, a similar group of twenty picketers stood outside the LyondellBassel’s main entrance – some wearing the all-blue coverall uniform of the plant.

Picketers held white signs with the same message, and had set up tables and chairs.  Industry representatives were absent, except for a handful of employees visible inside the sprawling refining complex.  Both groups of protestors declined to be interviewed.  Also Sunday afternoon, people packed into USW Local 13-1 in Texas City for a meeting. The room was standing-room only and another 200 plus people were on the parking lot trying to listen.

LyondellBasell said in a statement that: “a contemporaneous and orderly transition took place at our Houston Refining site, and the company has now activated a well-developed and pre-prepared work continuation plan at the site that will ensure we continue to operate safely and provide uninterrupted service to meet the needs of our customers. We have negotiated diligently and in good faith with the USW from the beginning and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith for a fair and responsible contract.”

Said Marathon Petroleum: “Marathon Petroleum Company’s Catlettsburg, Ky., and Galveston Bay, Texas, refineries are among those chosen by the USW for work stoppages. MPC has plans in place to ensure the continued safe operation of its facilities and stands ready to continue negotiations at the local level.”

The union also called for strikes against refineries in (Marathon Petroleum) Kentucky, Washington (Tesoro) and California (Tesoro) after its talks with Shell Oil Co. failed to reach a new labor agreement. Shell is bargaining on behalf of the oil industry.  “Shell refused to provide us with a counter-offer and left the bargaining table,” USW International President Leo W. Gerard said in a written statement. “We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage.”

Shell said it planned to keep running its facilities as normal. Marathon and Lyondell couldn’t be reached.  The union represents 30,000 energy workers nationwide, including 5,000 in Houston. Union leaders instructed the oil workers to stay at their posts until they were relieved or to finish out their shifts.  The remaining union-represented refineries, chemical plants, pipelines and oil terminals are operating under what’s known as a “rolling 24-hour” contract extension which extends the existing contracts a day at a time until negotiators reach an agreement or one side calls off the extension.

The union represents more than 230 refineries, oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical facilities in the U.S. Of those, 65 are refineries which produce approximately 64 percent of the oil in the nation.  “We told Shell that we were willing to continue bargaining for a fair agreement that would benefit the workers and the industry, but they just refused to return to the table,” USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, said in a written statement. Beevers heads the union’s National Oil Bargaining Program.

Union officials say the work stoppage is about excessive overtime and what they believe are unsafe staffing levels, dangerous work environments, and “flagrant” use of contractors to replace long-time employees.  On Saturday, the union rejected Shell’s latest offer. It was the company’s fifth offer, according to the union.  A Shell spokesman said on Saturdsy night that: “We have activated our strike contingency plan to continue operations in the normal course of business. We remain committed to resolving our differences with USW at the negotiating table and hope to resume negotiations as early as possible to get our employees back to work.”

Here is the strike list:

LyondellBasell refinery in Houston.

Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City.

Marathon Houston Green Cogeneration facility, Texas City.

Marathon Refinery, Catlettsburg, Ky.

Shell Deer Park Refinery, Deer Park.

Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant, Deer Park.

Tesoro Anacortes Refinery, Anacortes, Wash.

Tesoro Martinez Refinery, Martinez, Calif.

Tesoro Carson Refinery, Carson, Calif.

The union represents about 1,110 workers at Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery and about 800 workers at Shell Deer Park.  Tesoro said in a statement: “We have successfully made the transition and are operating our Carson refinery despite the USW violating the longstanding practice of providing a minimum of 24 hours’ strike notice. We plan to be operating Mandan, Anacortes and Martinez within the next 24-48 hours. We will continue supply the market and fulfill our customer commitments.”  Tesoro later said it would shut down the Martinez refinery, since half of was shut down already for planned maintenance.

 

 


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