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More Steelworkers Cross Picket Lines as Refinery Strike Drags on

Article by Zain Shauk published 4 March 2015 by

More Steelworkers Cross Picket Lines as Refinery Strike Drags on

(Bloomberg) — Royal Dutch Shell Plc said more than 20 percent of about 800 union workers at its Deer Park refinery in Texas have crossed picket lines, undermining a strike that has entered its second month.

Workers also have begun returning to their jobs at refineries owned by Motiva Enterprises LLC, a joint venture between Shell and Saudi Arabian Oil Co., said Kelly Op De Weegh, a Motiva spokeswoman. LyondellBasell Industries NV and Tesoro Corp., two other refinery owners affected by the strike, are seeing a growing number of employees coming back to work, according to spokespersons for the companies who wouldn’t provide a specific estimate.

“We have had workers return at all three of our sites,” said Destin Singleton, a spokeswoman for Tesoro Corp.

The Steelworkers said only a small fraction of the 6,600 workers joining the strike since Feb. 1 have been crossing the picket lines. The union has confirmed 113 members have returned to work at Deer Park, said Lee Medley, president of the USW local that covers the plant. The union isn’t keeping a tally of all the members who have crossed picket lines in the strike, he said.

“They went after the low-hanging fruit, the newer people,” Medley said of Deer Park. “But the men and women that I represent are standing strong and we will continue to stand strong.”

Strike Expansion

The walkout of U.S. oil workers is the first national action since 1980, when a stoppage lasted three months. In the past month the strike has expanded to include a dozen refineries and three other plants nationally. The last to join the action was Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas refinery, the nation’s largest, as well as Motiva’s refineries in Convent and Norco, Louisiana, which went on strike Feb. 20.

Shell, which is representing U.S. oil companies in its talks with the union, said it will meet with the USW Wednesday to continue negotiations for an agreement.

The union, which has rejected seven contract offers from Shell, says USW members should handle daily maintenance at plants. Shell has said the union’s “unreasonable” demands would take away hiring flexibility.

The work stoppage so far has had little impact on refineries that are highly automated and have been able to weather the walkout using non-union workers, according to the companies. At least four of the U.S. oil refineries targeted by the strike had reported equipment failures requiring unplanned repairs since the action began.

Scare Tactics

Ratcheting up pressure on the strikers, Shell said in an open letter to employees published on its website March 2 that it would have enough new workers trained by mid-summer to return to full staffing levels without its union employees.

The union dismissed the announcement as scare tactics. “Legally they’re not allowed to permanently replace workers during our strike,” said Medley at Deer Park.

Tesoro is giving “monetary recognition” this week to “those of us at work and eligible,” according to an open letter published on the company’s website March 2 by Keith Casey, Tesoro’s executive vice president of operations. Tesoro had already said on its website that striking workers are not eligible for compensation, including bonuses.

Even small numbers of returning workers undermine the effectiveness of the strike, said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Keeping it Running

“They enable management to continue production longer and to keep up with the repairs and necessary maintenance. The more people who come back, the more people management has to run the refinery,” Lichtenstein said.

“It’s not an unusual circumstance that an employer would encourage people to come back to work and cross the picket line,” said Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, speaking at a labor conference Feb. 24 in Atlanta. Companies’ efforts to bring union members back to work is “creating unnecessary division in the workplace,” he said.

Strike breakers might be a factor in negotiations, but “not necessarily a decisive factor, as witnessed by the fact that, overwhelmingly, the workers are still out,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor and trade.

BP Plc and Marathon Petroleum Corp., which also have affected refineries, declined to comment on workers crossing the picket line.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zain Shauk in Houston at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Susan Warren at [email protected] Carlos Caminada

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1 Comment on “More Steelworkers Cross Picket Lines as Refinery Strike Drags on”

  1. #1 Steve
    on Mar 11th, 2015 at 03:45

    Good plan, don’t let Leo Gerrard the Economic Terrorist from bankrupting your family and the U.S. economy. Lets stop letting Government control our Fuel prices.

    Leo Gerard, the Radical International USW President Who Bought the Presidency

    Lets get the refineries back into action, and then the Tek industry including all chip manufacturers will recover and so will follow the rest of the Tek industry.

    Union bosses’ salaries put ‘big’ in Big Labor

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