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Oil strike escalates in US

12 February, 2015Faced with increased employer intransigence in the US the United Steelworkers (USW) oil industry strike, principally in support of demands for improved safety provisions has escalated as it entered its second week. 

Workers at BP refineries in Ohio and Indiana have joined the walkout that began on 1 February at nine other refineries. From California to Kentucky this is the first nationwide strike in the industry for 35 years.

There are now more than 5,000 USW members on an unfair labour practice strike at 11 refineries owned by Shell, Marathon, Tesoro, BP and LyondellBasell. THe strikes began after Shell failed to offer serious proposals to address the USW's concerns about safety, onerous overtime and unsafe staffing levels. 

Shell is leading the employer side of negotiations for a new national contract. On 6 February the Houston area oil workers took part in a noon rally at Shell US Headquarters to show management that union members are united in their drive for a fair contract that improves safety throughout the industry. The following day, on 7 February, one week into the strike, refinery workers around the country participated in a National Day of Action for Safe Refineries, Secure Jobs and Healthy Communities. Local USW unions carried out actions in solidarity with striking locals, which included a mix of plant gate rallies and rallies at local union halls.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the USW is clear that the main priority of the national strike is refinery safety and resolving the issue of chronic understaffing. USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who heads the union’s National Oil Bargaining Program, stated that

This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; and flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job.

In addition to the health and safety issues, the USW unfair labour practice (ULP) strike is over the oil companies’ bad faith bargaining, including the refusal to bargain over mandatory subjects; undue delays in providing information; impeded bargaining; and threats issued to workers if they joined the ULP strike.

The union is committed to negotiating a fair contract that improves safety conditions throughout the industry and USW negotiators are determined to resolve the members’ central issues.

This week has also seen a delegation of striking refinery workers bring their campaign for a safer oil industry to Europe at meetings with allies from trade unions in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

The group includes striking workers from refineries owned by Shell, Marathon and Tesoro. Shell, which has taken the lead on bargaining for the companies, has its headquarters in the Netherlands. The USW members met with leaders from the FNV oil workers union at Shell and LyondellBasell in the Netherlands and then travelled to the United Kingdom to meet with leaders from Unite the Union, the largest industrial union in Great Britain and Ireland.