Striking Oil Workers Agree to Talk to Shell This Week

The United Steelworkers union, representing 30,000 oil workers in contract negotiations, plans to talk this week with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, bargaining on behalf of oil companies amid the biggest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years.

Shell and the union, with members at more than 200 U.S. refineries, fuel terminals, pipelines and chemical plants, agreed Friday to be in contact this week after reviewing proposals, USW International President Leo Gerard said at a conference in Atlanta on Tuesday. Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said by e-mail that the company had “no confirmed plans” to resume negotiations.

The stalled negotiations are prolonging a walkout that began Feb. 1 at seven refineries, expanded to nine a week later and added three more over the weekend, including the nation’s biggest complex. Together, the plants account for almost 20 percent of the country’s refining capacity. It’s the first national walkout of U.S. oil workers since 1980, when a work stoppage lasted three months.

A further expansion of the strike will depend “on the next round of negotiations,” Gerard said at a labor conference organized by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. “And I hope that happens reasonably quickly.”

Fisher said by e-mail late Tuesday that Shell “remains willing to meet with the USW to continue to negotiate in good faith.”

Motiva Walkout

Late on Feb. 20, the USW called on workers at Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, the nation’s largest, to join the strike. It also ordered members at the company’s refineries in Convent and Norco, Louisiana, to walk out. Motiva is a joint venture venture between Shell and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

Workers were already on strike at Tesoro Corp.’s plants in Martinez and Carson, California, and Anacortes, Washington; Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Catlettsburg complex in Kentucky and Galveston Bay site in Texas; Shell’s Deer Park complex in Texas; LyondellBasell Industries NV’s Houston plant; and BP Plc’s Whiting, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, refineries.

In all, the USW represents workers at sites that together account for 64 percent of U.S. fuel output.

The union has rejected seven contract offers from Shell, which is representing companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. in the negotiations.

Contract Demands

The USW has been asking for tougher measures to prevent fatigue, maintain staffing and keep union workers rather than contract employees on the jobs. Refineries are understaffed by anywhere from 18 percent to 25 percent, Gerard said on Tuesday.

“Our fight is not just a fight for our members,” he said. “It’s a fight to make these refineries as safe as possible, certainly safer than they are now.”

The USW is demanding that Shell replace maintenance contractors with USW-represented employees, Fisher said. The requirement is “unreasonable,” removing the company’s flexibility in hiring to accommodate work schedules, he said. Shell provided “an extensive amount of information” last week that was requested by the union relating to the use of contractors at plants, he said.

About 6,550 people are now on strike, according to USW estimates. The work stoppage also covers a Marathon cogeneration plant in Texas and two Shell chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana.

United Steelworkers members operate refinery units, perform maintenance and work in labs at the plants.

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