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Action Now Encompasses More Than 5,000 Workers ENLARGE Strikers rallying at Marathon’s refinery in Catlettsburg, Ky. on Saturday. 
The Wall Street Journal
Alison Sider
02.08.2015


The striking United Steelworkers expanded walkouts to two more refineries over the weekend as talks between the union and energy companies continued into a second week.

The strike now encompasses more than 5,000 workers at 11 U.S. fuel-making plants. The action is the largest strike by refinery workers since 1980. The plants on strike account for about 13% of U.S. fuel-making capacity.

The latest two refineries hit by strikes are BP PLC’s massive Whiting, Ind., refinery and a plant outside Toledo, Ohio, that BP jointly owns with Husky Energy Inc. of Canada. They are joining plants in Texas, Kentucky, California and Washington owned by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, LyondellBasell Industries , Marathon Petroleum Corp. , and Tesoro Corp.

BP and the union confirmed over the weekend that refinery workers in the Midwest would strike. BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company is committed to negotiations with the union. Meanwhile, the company will continue to operate its plants, relying on current and former employees who have been trained on the equipment.

In statements and interviews USW representatives have said little progress has been made toward resolving the concerns most central to union members.

The union went into the talks asking for an annual wage increase that’s double what the contract now allows. But union officials have called the strike an “unfair-labor-practice work stoppage” and said that talks stalled over other issues, including the maximum amount that workers must pay out of pocket for health-care costs. The union also wants stronger policies in place that would prevent shift schedules that it says are contributing to worker fatigue, which can lead to accidents. The USW has also asked that energy companies keep staff levels up and rely less on nonunion contractors for regular maintenance work.

A spokesman for Shell, which is leading the negotiations on behalf of U.S. refiners, said the company is looking forward to resuming talks this week.

The strike expanded after talks between the union and the industry hit a snag last week. The union rejected a sixth offer put forward by Shell.

The two sides have been bargaining since late January over a new three-year contract that would set a baseline for the industry on wages, benefits and safety standards.

USW International President Leo Gerard said in an interview Friday that talks have been “more focused” since the strike began Feb. 1, but have still moved slowly.

“It’s better than when they said they had nothing to say and left,” said Mr. Gerard of an earlier breakdown in the collective bargaining process.

So far, nearly all of the striking refineries have continued to churn out gasoline, diesel and other fuels. Only Tesoro’s plant in Martinez, Calif., has been shut down. Much of that refinery was already down for maintenance when the strike began.

Two plants where workers are striking are the locations of fatal refinery accidents. A 2005 explosion at the refinery in Texas City, Texas, now owned by Marathon but at the time operated by BP, killed 15 people.

Tesoro’s refinery in Anacortes, Wash., was the site of a 2010 explosion and fire that killed seven.

Write to Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com


 


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