Shell unveils plan to replace USW refining workers

Shell will have trained and deployed enough “relief workers” by mid-summer to keep the 327,000-bpd Deer Park refinery in Texas running at full operations. 

By LYNN DOAN and ZAIN SHAUK    03.03.2015    Bloomberg

Two days before contract negotiations are scheduled to resume between Royal Dutch Shell and the United Steelworkers’ oil union, the company announced plans to run its second-largest US refinery without union labor.

Shell will have trained and deployed enough “relief workers” by mid-summer to keep the 327,000-bpd Deer Park refinery in Texas running at full operations, The Hague, Netherlands-based company said late Monday on its website. USW members went on strike at the complex on Feb. 1 after their contract expired and talks broke down.

The announcement comes amid a national strike that’s now widened to 12 refineries accounting for almost 20% of the capacity in the US. Shell is leading the negotiations with the 30,000-strong United Steelworkers on behalf of companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Shell said on its website late Monday that the company had been preparing staff to replace union workers since the walkout began. After putting in place non-union Shell employees to run operations at the plant, “we turned our focus to bringing in and training additional staff,” the company said.

The United Steelworkers, 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 the strike expand.

Ray Fisher, a spokesman for Shell, said in a statement on Friday that the company and the union will “continue efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”

Three-Month Stoppage

The walkout of US oil workers is the first national action 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.

The USW last expanded the strike on Feb. 20 to include Motiva Enterprises’ Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, the nation’s largest, along with its plants in Convent and Norco, Louisiana. Motiva is a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

Workers were already on strike at: Shell’s Deer Park complex in Texas; Tesoro’s plants in Martinez and Carson, California, and Anacortes, Washington; Marathon Petroleum’s Catlettsburg complex in Kentucky and Galveston Bay site 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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