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USW oil workers stage nationwide strike

3 February, 2015US oil workers from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the United Steelworkers (USW), are staging their first nationwide strike in more than 30 years. 

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

USW is in the process of negotiating a new agreement to establish a nationwide pattern on working conditions, wages and benefits with oil companies, who are being led by Shell. The previous contract expired at the end of January.

“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 union represents workers at 65 US refineries that produce approximately 64 per cent of oil in the country.

Shell has made a series of derisory offers which have all been rejected by USW.

“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.

In a solidarity letter to the USW International President, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said:

“We stand together with USW oil workers who have a fundamental right to be safe at work. Cost cutting through outside contractors, unreasonable working hours, and inadequate training opportunities cannot be allowed to jeopardize lives. We urge the oil companies to take serious consideration for their workers’ welfare and the safety of the oil industry as a whole.”

“IndustriALL Global Union, together with our affiliated trade unions in the oil industry throughout the world, stand firm in solidarity with all our USW brothers and sisters,” added Raina.