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USA: Workers fight back against giant oil companies

24 February, 2015Thousands of members of IndustriALL affiliate United Steelworkers (USW) National Oil Bargaining Program have gone on strike over health and safety issues in the industry.

US oil industry collective bargaining agreements expired starting 31 January. Since the industry has refused to offer a reasonable proposal, workers are now on strike at 15 facilities across the USA. The strike includes 7,000 workers at 12 refineries, representing about 1/5 of the total oil refining capacity in the whole country.

Health and safety issues are key to this dispute. In 1973, a predecessor of the USW won a hard-fought nation-wide strike against Shell Oil for improvements in health and safety. However, in the decades since then, those gains have been eroded by staff reductions, contracting out, and cost cutting.

Corners are cut on maintenance, equipment is purchased on “low bid”, and more and more skilled refining jobs are contracted out to lower-paid and more easily intimidated, usually non-union, temporary workers. This has left US facilities with less than a skeleton staff of professionals – in many cases, there are not enough staff on the site to deal safely with normal operations, let alone an unplanned emergency. Short staffing leads to inhuman shift schedules and chronic stress and fatigue.

The oil industry is one of the richest industries on the planet. Yet it consistently displays contempt for the health and safety of the people who earn their profits for them and those living in nearby communities.

IndustriALL's 50 million affiliated workers worldwide fully support the United Steelworkers in their struggle against a rich and dangerous industry, and major oil industry unions are taking solidarity actions.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan says:

We will continue to support our brothers and sisters in the US oil sector and will do everything in our power to help them reach victory.