Union signals U.S. refinery workers may have to go on strike

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 26, 2015 10:07 PM

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The United Steelworkers union (USW) signaled on Monday a strike by U.S. refinery workers may be necessary to win what it calls a fair contract from oil companies.

The last nationwide refinery workers strike was in 1980 and lasted for three months.

Union and oil company negotiators met for a sixth day of negotiations on Monday ahead of the current contract expiring at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday in the time zone where each refinery is located.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc is leading the talks on behalf of companies ranging from supermajors such as Exxon Mobil Corp and BP Plc to smaller companies such as HollyFrontier Corp and Delek.

"Challenging bargaining continues," the USW said in a text message to members on Monday night. "Industry still isn't getting serious. Local unions are preparing to do whatever it takes to win fair contracts."

A USW spokeswoman said the union has prepared for a strike.

"We always prepare for a possible work stoppage when contract talks take place," said Steelworker spokeswoman Lynne Hancock. "It's par for the course. Our members are more mobilized now than they have been before."

Refineries have also prepared for a possible strike by training temporary replacement workers and by placing trailers on refinery grounds as quarters for the replacement workers.

The Steelworkers are seeking annual pay raises double those of the last agreement. The union also wants work given to non-union contractors to go to USW members, a tighter policy to prevent workplace fatigue, and reductions in members' out-of-pocket payments for healthcare.

A Shell representative was not immediately available to discuss negotiations on Monday night. On Sunday, a company spokesman said the company was optimistic a mutually satisfactory agreement with the USW was possible.

The union represnts workers at 63 refineries that account for two-thirds of U.S. refining capacity.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba)