By Michael Cabanatuan Sunday, February 1, 2015 SFGate
About 400 unionized employees at the Tesoro refinery in Martinez plan to go on strike as soon as they can safely shut down the plant, union officials said Sunday.
The refinery is one of nine represented by the United Steelworkers that were asked to go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday after national oil bargaining talks broke down, said Lynne Hancock, a union spokeswoman. The union called for a strike after United Steelworkers rejected a fourth contract offer, and talks broke off, she said.
“We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage,” the union’s international president, Leo W. Gerard, said in a statement.
Hancock said the union wants a three-year contract and is focused on mandatory overtime, staffing levels, safety issues and outsourcing of work. The union represents a variety of workers from refinery operators, machinists and mechanics to pipe fitters and maintenance workers.
“The work stoppage is based on health and safety issues,” she said. “It’s not about wages. We wanted to come out of this round of bargaining with meaningful and enforceable health and safety protections that would help prevent future explosions, fires and leaks. We did not want to go on strike. We did everything we could to avoid it.”
Tesoro officials released a statement expressing disappointment over receiving strike notifications at its refineries in Martinez, Carson and Anacortes, Wash. The USW said it has also asked members to strike refineries in Texas and Kentucky.
Tracy Scott, a union representative for USW Local 5 in Martinez, said the union had given the Martinez refinery a strike notice and was in the process of negotiating a safe shutdown of the refinery, a process that could take three to four days.
Tesoro officials issued a statement that said half of the Martinez plant is already shut down for planned maintenance and that the remaining oil processing units will be shut down beginning within 24 hours. They said Tesoro intends to maintain normal operations at the Carson and Anacortes refineries.
The union represents workers at 230 refineries, oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical plants around the nation, including the Shell Martinez and Chevron Richmond refineries, Scott said. Contracts for most of those workers expired at midnight, Hancock said, and those members are working on a rolling day-to-day contract extension.
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan