US oil workers from the United Steelworkers (USW) are staging their first nationwide strike in more than 30 years after talks with Shell broke down.

Steelworkers standing strong. Photo: USW

Steelworkers standing strong. Photo: USW

Nearly 4,000 USW oil workers have stopped work at nine US oil refineries and chemical plants in protest at oil companies’ refusal to recognise workers grave concerns over safety.

“Shell refused to provide us with a counter-offer and left the bargaining table,”

said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage.”

The remaining USW-represented refineries and oil facilities are operating under a rolling 24-hour contract extension. The USW represents 65 U.S. refineries and over 230 refineries, oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical facilities in the U.S.

“We told Shell that we were willing to continue bargaining for a fair agreement that would benefit the workers and the industry, but they just refused to return to the table,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who heads the union’s National Oil Bargaining Program.

“This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire,” Beevers added.

The USW rejected Shell Oil Company’s last offer. It was the company’s fifth offer to the union. Shell is the lead company for the National Oil Bargaining talks. National negotiations focus on establishing a pattern on wages, benefits and working conditions. Local union and unit negotiations focus on local issues at the particular facility.

The union offered to bargain over a safe and orderly shutdown or a safe and orderly transitional release.  Oil workers were told to stay at their posts until they were relieved or to finish out their shift.

“The oil companies do not want to work with us to improve the workplace and safety at oil refineries and facilities,” said USW International Vice President of Administration Tom Conway.

“This industry is the richest in the world and can afford to make the changes we offered in bargaining.

“The problem is that oil companies are too greedy to make a positive change in the workplace and they continue to value production and profit over health and safety, workers and the community.

“When the industry comes to its senses, we are more than willing to meet them at the bargaining table and negotiate a fair pattern agreement that will help everyone,” Conway added.

The union represents workers at 65 U.S. refineries that produce approximately 64 percent of the oil in the U.S.

More than 30,000 Steelworkers work in oil refineries, pipelines, and terminals across the country. Most USW members in the oil sector participate in National Oil Bargaining, an industry-wide bargaining program that sets the standards for improvements to pay, key benefits, and health and safety standards across the sector.

The current National Oil Bargaining agreement is scheduled to expire on February 1, 2015 and Steelworkers at oil refineries, pipelines, and terminals are mobilising at work, in their communities, and online to win a fair agreement.

Steelworkers will be holding a National Day of Action tomorrow.

The USW is the largest private-sector union in North America, representing 850,000 workers employed in metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, energy, chemicals, transportation, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments.

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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