Dialogue on new worker contracts breaks down in under two weeks
THE North American United Steelworkers Union (USW) called on Sunday for members at nine US oil refineries to stage their largest walkout in more 30 years.
It said that negotiations with Shell Oil over new contracts had broken down less than two weeks after they began.
Union leaders asked around 3,800 workers, mostly in Texas and California, to strike shortly after their previous contracts expired at midnight.
Negotiations on a new contract started on January 21, but the call for strike action came after the USW rejected Shell’s fourth offer.
The union noted that Shell had bluntly refused to provide a counter offer and that the company’s representatives had left the bargaining table.
“We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage,” said USW international president Leo Gerard.
But a Shell representative claimed that the company remained “committed to resolving our differences with USW at the negotiating table to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”
Union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said that USW wanted a three-year contract and was focused on healthcare costs, safety, the use of contractors and staffing concerns, as well as wages.
USW represents about 30,000 workers at refineries and petrochemical plants across the US as well as workers in Canada and the Caribbean.
Shell is serving as lead company in national bargaining with the union.
Any agreement reached between the union and Shell would be used as a pattern for negotiations involving local unions.
The affected refineries include Marathon Galveston Bay in Texas City, Shell Deer Park in Texas and Tesoro Carson in California.
Shell said that its Deer Park operation had started strike contingency plans and claimed that it would continue operations “in the normal course of business.”
Sites not targeted for a strike will operate under contract extensions renewed every 24 hours, Ms Hancock said.
Negotiators normally reach agreement on a new deal by the time national contracts expire or extend the contract a few days to continue negotiations.
“We haven’t had a work stoppage like this since 1980,” Ms Hancock said.