A Breakdown of the 2015 United Steelworkers Strike

By Jeremiah Wooten, Managing Partner at Inspectioneering. February 16, 2015

There are a number of important stories affecting the Oil & Gas industry right now, but one that hits particularly close to home is the standoff between the United Steelworkers (USW) union and several major oil refiners in the United States. As of February 12, this standoff and simultaneous strike are now in their 12th day, resulting in the largest work stoppage by refinery workers in the United States since 1980.

The strike has come as contract renegotiations broke down between union officials and Royal Dutch Shell plc, the lead negotiator for the oil companies. The two sides are attempting to renegotiate the USW labor agreement, which expired February 1st and affects over 30,000 refinery workers in the U.S.

Since February 1st, the union has directed its members at several refineries to walk off the job. Initially, the following refineries were affected:

  • LyondellBasell’s plant in Houston, Texas;

  • Marathon’s Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas;

  • Marathon’s Houston green cogeneration facility, Texas City, Texas;

  • Marathon’s refinery in Catlettsburg, Kentucky;

  • Shell’s Deer Park refinery in Deer Park, Texas;

  • Shell’s Deer Park chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas;

  • Tesoro’s Anacortes Refinery in Anacortes, Washington;

  • Tesoro’s Martinez Refinery in Martinez, California; and

  • Tesoro’s Carson Refinery in Carson, California.

On February 8th, in response to talks continuing to stagnate between the two parties, the union expanded the strikes to:

  • BP’s refinery in Whiting, Indiana; and

  • BP and Husky Energy’s refinery in Toledo, Ohio.

In all, the 11 refineries currently affected by the strike represent 13% of the total U.S. refining capacity and have seen 5,000 workers walk off the job. Other refineries whose workers are represented by the USW union will continue operations under rolling 24-hour contract extensions.

One reason talks between the two parties are so contentious this year is due to the large drop in oil prices since last June, which has made the oil companies less open to negotiation when it comes to improving work conditions or benefits for employees. Among other things, the union is reportedly seeking annual pay raises of 6%, improved policies to deal with workplace fatigue, and reductions in out-of-pocket costs for healthcare. It is also demanding to get work for its members that has traditionally been given to non-contract employees.

The strike will persist until an agreement is reached, and it appears that the union will continue to expand the scope of the strike to cover more refineries until the two sides settle on the terms of the new contract.

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