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Energy workers get new offer

By L.M. SIXEL Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle

Jan. 29, 2009, 5:18PM

Union negotiators for workers at 11 area refineries and chemical plants have received a new contract offer that calls for an increased bump in wages over the most recent offer, according to details posted online.

In addition to raising wages 2.5 percent each year for three years, the new contract offers a one-time $500 ratification bonus and extra cash for out-of-pocket health care expenses.

The current contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, raising the prospect that 30,000 energy and chemical workers nationwide, including 4,200 in the Houston area, could strike.

Shell Oil Co., which is representing the energy industry, has been meeting with negotiators from the United Steelworkers Union in Austin.

The United Steelworkers Union Local 675, which represents workers in Southern California and Nevada, posted the latest offer on its Web site, but has since taken it down.

The online memo also notes that union negotiators plan to reject this latest offer “at the appropriate time.”

Lynne Baker, spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers Union in Nashville, said she couldn’t discuss the negotiations.

“Contract negotiation is a moving target,” said David McKinney, communications manager at Shell Deer Park. “Because the nature of negotiating a contract can involve frequent offers and counter offers, Shell does not comment on them while in progress.”

He added that Shell remains optimistic that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached.

The proposal calls for a 75 cent raise for first year of the contract, and then a 2.5 percent increase in each of the second and third year of the contract.

The average pay is $30.06 an hour. So the first-year raise works out to 2.5 percent. Union members would also receive a one-time ratification bonus of $500, according to the contract offer.

The last contract offer, which was rejected by union negotiators, called for a 2.5 percent increase the first year and then a 2 percent increase in both the second and the third year.

The latest offer would also give $250 a year to workers for their unreimbursed medical expenses. To be eligible, employees must successfully complete a unspecified health and wellness program.

However, the contract states that the company can terminate that provision if national health insurance goes into effect.

Local facilities affected by the contract talks include Shell’s Deer Park refinery, chemical plant and chemical lab; BP’s Texas City refinery and chemical plant; INEOS NOVA chemical in Texas City; Chevron-Phillips Chemical Co.’s plant in Pasadena; LyondellBasell Industries’ refinery in Houston; BP Pipeline; and Pasadena Refining System.

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