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USW reaches tentative agreement in oil sector

20 March, 2015IndustriALL affiliate, the United Steelworkers (USW), and petrochemical company Shell have reached a tentative agreement to bring an end to the national oil workers’ strike, which began on 1 February.

The agreement, reached on 12 March and approved by union’s lead negotiators, is the first major step towards ending the largest oil refining industry strike in the United States since 1980.

“We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.”

The strike has focused on safety and working conditions rather than wage increases and the new four-year contract will act as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry.

Safety issues have been central to the negotiations, and the proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility.

Over recent years, the industry has increased pressure on the workforce, often forcing employees to work 12-hour shifts for several weeks straight. This has now been successfully confronted. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that has also been addressed. The tentative agreement also calls for yearly wage increases as well as maintaining the current health care plan cost-sharing ratio.

The strike began at nine oil and chemical facilities when negotiations over a new contract broke down. By March, six more facilities had joined the strike bringing the number of striking workers to close to 7,000.

The union expectation is that other employers will offer the same terms at their local bargaining tables.

Already the deal is showing support and progress being made on local issues at four facilities owned or co-owned by Shell. Each local union now needs to negotiate a contract that incorporates the national agreement and resolves local issues as well.

Latest news at the time of writing is that Local 13-423 has voted unanimously to accept the settlement offer in Port Arthur, Texas.

IndustriALL general secretary, Jyrki Raina, told USW oil workers:  “Your focus on health and safety issues means that not only workers but also the communities living close to oil industry facilities will face fewer hazards than they did before the strike began. Congratulations!”

USW represents in total about 30,000 workers at more than 200 refineries, terminals, and pipelines across the country, which accounts for as much as 64 percent of U.S. fuel output.