Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Steelworkers expand strike in Midwest

‘DISAPPOINTED’:A BP spokesman said that the petroleum company was seeking a deal that ‘provides good wages while giving management the flexibility it needs’


The first nationwide strike at US oil refineries since 1980 is spreading to two BP plants in the Midwest.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union notified BP PLC that workers at refineries in Ohio and Indiana planned to strike on Saturday night, joining a walkout that began last week at nine other refineries.

A BP spokesman said that the company expected to continue operating with replacement workers and did not expect a significant effect on production.

About 3,800 steelworkers began a strike on Feb. 1 at refineries from California to Kentucky, saying that negotiations with Shell Oil Co had broken down. Shell is negotiating the national contract for other oil companies.

Union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said the workers are seeking better healthcare benefits and limits on the use of contractors to replace union members in maintenance jobs. She said wages are not an issue.

Refineries are far more automated than they were during the last nationwide strike 35 years ago. Management draws up plans to use nonunion workers and contractors to keep running. That could blunt the impact of the steelworkers’ walkout and prevent a shock to gasoline prices.

“Generally production is not impacted by these work stoppages, but prices can go up because of the perception” of an interruption, Oil Price Information Service chief oil analyst Tom Kloza said. “We’re seeing that on the west coast.”

Three of the targeted refineries are in California and Washington state, and one — a Tesoro Corp plant in Martinez, California, that was already operating at a reduced level for maintenance work — has been idled.

Wholesale gasoline prices on the US west coast have increased about US$0.65 per gallon since hitting bottom midway through last month, Kloza said, which he attributed partly to maintenance shutdowns and usual seasonal trends in gasoline prices — the peak driving season is right around the corner.

The union and Shell have continued to negotiate since the strike began, Hancock said, and the union might hope that expanding the walkout to BP refineries puts more pressure on Shell negotiators.

“BP is disappointed that USW leadership decided to call a strike at both the Whiting Refinery and BP-Husky Toledo Refinery,” BP spokesman Scott Dean said by e-mail.

He said BP remained at the negotiating table and wanted a deal that “provides good wages while giving management the flexibility it needs” to remain competitive in the industry.

BP’s plant in Whiting, Indiana, has about 1,860 employees, more than 1,000 of whom are represented by the steelworkers. BP’s Toledo refinery in Ohio, which it owns 50-50 with Canada’s Husky Energy, has about 600 workers, including more than 300 steelworkers.

After the union workers walked off the job, the plants were to be staffed by replacements, including retirees and former frontline workers, who now hold salaried jobs, Dean said.

In trading on Friday last week, benchmark US crude rose US$1.21 to close at US$51.69 per barrel after a strong employment report hinted at stronger demand for energy. Oil prices climbed 7 percent.

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