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Workers at nation’s largest oil refinery join growing strike

Workers at nation’s largest oil refinery join growing strike thumbnail

Workers at the nation’s largest oil refinery have joined a strike that now includes more than 6,500 workers.

The United Steelworkers union says the nation’s oil producers aren’t taking seriously the safety concerns of its 30,000 members.

The oil industry says it shares the union’s commitment to safety, but rejects the union’s concerns about non-union contractors who perform “routine maintenance” alongside union members.

The two sides have been engaged in negotiations for a nationwide contract that covers more than 200 production facilities, including 65 refineries.

Those talks fell apart on Friday, and no further negotiations have yet been scheduled, according to Shell (RDSA) spokesman Ray Fisher.

USW members at nine facilities walked off the job on February 1 after the old contract expired. Each week, more workers have joined, taking a stand while workers at most of the nation’s plants remain on the job.

All told, workers at 15 refineries and other production facilities are now on strike.

It is the first large-scale walkout in the industry in 35 years. Most of the nation’s oil workers remain on the job, but the USW urged all its members to “prepare to join ULP (unfair labor practice) strike if called upon.”

Shell, which is representing the oil industry in the talks, said it is “extremely disappointed” by the union’s decision to further expand the strike, which “sets the wrong tone for both parties to move forward.”

The company said in a letter to employees on Sunday that its commitment to resolving the dispute does not appear to be reciprocated.

“(W)e’re seeing little evidence that the USW’s leaders are interested in a meaningful settlement any time in the foreseeable future,” the letter read.


Late Thursday, the union told members that management’s “new offer fails to improve safety in (an) enforceable way.”

But Shell maintained that the use of non-union contractors is not detrimental to safety. “(H)iring flexibility is a proven way to protect our core Shell workforce and the long-term economic viability of our business,” the company said.

Sunday’s newcomers to the strike include workers at the Port Arthur Refinery, which is the nation’s largest. The Texas facility’s strike contingency plan, like those enacted at several other facilities, calls for nonunion operators to operate the facility while negotiations continue.

“The company is committed to maintaining safe operations as part of the normal course of business and to providing quality products to our customers who depend upon us,” said Motiva, the facility’s operator.

Motiva is partially owned by Shell. Two other Shell-owned plants were already part of the walkout.

The union said three other facilities are also joining the strike: Motiva-owned refineries in Convent and Norco, Louisiana, and a Shell-owned chemical plant also in Norco.

United Steelworkers said 1,350 union members are employed between the four facilities.


Nationwide, USW members process 64% of the nation’s oil, according to the union.

While talks continued, there was an explosion last Wednesday morning at a California refinery owned by ExxonMobil (XOM). The plant was not one of the ones where workers were striking, but union officials said the incident “underscores the United Steelworkers’ demand for improved safety conditions to protect both workers and communities.”

ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler said the company “regret(s) this incident” and makes “the safety and health of our employees, contractors and neighbors” its Number 1 priority.


8 Comments on "Workers at nation’s largest oil refinery join growing strike"

  1. Makati1 on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 8:54 am 

    Cost cutting on maintenance? Signs of the times as the nation’s infrastructure falls apart.

  2. penury on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 9:07 am 

    So what? Who cares? This type of action will have zero effect on anything. All show no go.

  3. Davy on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 9:26 am 

    Mak, your Asia is in just as bad of shape. I see photos of the decrepit factories in Asia then I hear the anti-Americans come on here and give the usual report card on civil engineering infrastructure for the US. Come on Makster live by your own standards. Hypocrites want dual standards normal people understand fairness and balance.

    Manila is much the same. Just check out this page:

  4. rockman on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 9:31 am 

    FYI – The argument isn’t over safety. The union is insisting on a pay increase that’s twice what they got during the last contract negotiations. That’s the portion of the press release put out by the union itself that’s being edited out by the MSM. Had the refiners agreed to the raise there would have been no strike IMHO.

  5. ghung on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 9:43 am 

    Yeah, Rock, but the safety thing always plays better than the ‘mo money, mo money, mo money’ thingy. This isn’t the only issue where spin trumps reality. Our society is batting about .999 when it comes to BS.

  6. bobinget on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 11:19 am 

    Even More Crude piles-up at storage depots.

    This in turn LOWERS oil prices despite increased
    demand. Futures traders mostly ignore international
    political events, (ya never know who wins) concentrating instead on how much of any given commodity is on hand.

    Refinery workers are striking because this is the ideal time to strike. Sales, (demand) is high, refiners are coining money.

    Refiners supply your local ‘gas station’. If product has to be transported greater distances, Mr. Big
    loses money.
    We can’t have that.

    It seems safety conditions are the main gripes.

  7. rockman on Mon, 23rd Feb 2015 12:57 pm 

    As far as the root causes of the strike = from the union: “”The four key areas of focus in the negotiations are wages, healthcare, use of contractors and fatigue.” In a letter to striking employees at the Shell and Motiva plants, company officials said Shell has offered annual pay raises of 2 percent in each of the first two years of a proposed three-year pact and a 2.5-percent increase in the third year. The company has also offered to study issues of worker fatigue, which has been cited as a factor in at least one fatal accident in the past 10 years.
    Shell also told striking employees the key sticking point was non-union contractors who perform daily maintenance. The USW would like to see them replaced with union workers.

    Other than some press releases no real push on safety by the union. The main issue, at least at Texas refineries, has always been the use of non-union members. Texas is a ‘right to work” state: union membership is not mandatory. Most of the non-union workers are experienced and have been employed at the refineries for decades.

    “The largest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years entered its fourth week on Sunday as workers at 12 refineries accounting for one-fifth of national production capacity were walking picket lines.” Notice how that statement seems to imply the refineries aren’t operating normally. In fact only one refinery has shut down due to the strike – Tesoro’s 166,000-bpd plant in Martinez, California, which was previously scheduled to undergo maintenance. And the consumer advocates in CA are claiming Tesoro went with a full shut down of that plant to increase prices from its other operations in the state. IOW by shutting down Martinez Tesoro is making a fatter profit.

  8. Bill on Tue, 24th Feb 2015 8:55 am 

    It’s the old: if you don’t know what a union is about then people think they are no good!,people who are not in them want to join them!If you really are not in them then why do people bum wrap them?They do not really know or understand!, please get all the facts straight before you make judgement, thanks, I’m a card carrying active union member in the construction industry since 1979, who has worked in oil refineries in the midwest.

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