Striking USW refining workers, Shell to resume labor talks Wednesday

The union, which has rejected seven contract offers, says USW members should handle daily maintenance at plants. Shell has said the union’s “unreasonable” demands would take away hiring flexibility.

By LYNN DOAN and LUCIA KASSAI    03.02.2015   Bloomberg

The United Steelworkers union, representing 30,000 oil workers in contract talks, will resume negotiations this week with Royal Dutch Shell, prolonging the biggest refinery strike in 35 years.

Shell, negotiating on behalf of employers including ExxonMobil and Chevron, and the USW have agreed to meet on March 4, statements from both sides show. The union, which is trying to limit the number of contractors at plants, said in a text message on Friday that Shell will need to bargain a fair and safe contract “or see strike expand.”

The meeting will be the first official one since Feb. 20, when talks between the two sides broke down and the union spread its strike to include the nation’s largest refinery. The stalled negotiations have drawn out a national walkout that began Feb. 1 at seven refineries and has since widened to include 12. Together, they account for almost 20% of the country’s refining capacity.

Ray Fisher, a spokesman for The Hague, Netherlands-based Shell, said in a statement on Friday that the company and the union will “continue efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.” USW International President Leo Gerard said on Tuesday that a further expansion of the strike will depend on this next round of negotiations.

The walkout of US oil workers is the first national one since 1980, when a stoppage lasted three months. In all, the USW represents workers at sites that together account for 64% of US fuel output.

Port Arthur

Late on Feb. 20, the USW called on workers at Motiva Enterprises’ refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, 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 Aramco.

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

The union, which has rejected seven contract offers from Shell, says USW members should handle daily maintenance at plants. Shell has said the union’s “unreasonable” demands would take away hiring flexibility.

About 6,550 people have joined the strike, which also includes a Marathon cogeneration plant in Texas and two Shell chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana, USW statements show.

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