Steel workers at Oil Refineries go on their Largest Strike in 35 Years


Written by Metalworkers Union of São José dos Campos
Friday, 06 February 2015 14:27
Operations of nine oil refineries have been stopped in the country since Sunday, February 1.
Steel workers in 9 oil refineries of the United States have started on Sunday, February 1 the largest strike ever held in the country since 1980. The last national strike in the sector was held 35 years ago and lasted for three months. The objective is to say no to the attempts of flexibilization of the workers’ rights and to demand more safety in the workplace.
The strike involves about 3,800 steel workers in oil refineries in the country, at nine facilities in Texas, California, Kentucky and Washington. The United Steel Workers (USW) was in negotiations with Shell Oil as part of a national pattern bargaining process when Shell walked away from the labor talks triggering the strike.
The USW represents maintenance steel workers at 65 oil refineries that produce about 64 percent of country’s refined oil. The trade union says that the nine oil refineries on strike account for over 10% of U.S. oil refining capacity.
Negotiations between the USW and Royal Dutch Shell, representative of the so-called “Big Oil”, the big oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Conoco have started on January 21. After five rounds of negotiations, with proposals rejected by the workers representatives, the strike began. The latest proposal was classified as an “insult” and caused uproar among workers.
Labor flexibilization and unsafe work

The main objectives of the mobilization are to defeat the attempts of labor flexibilization in the sector, to demand the end of outsourcing and better working and safety conditions. The workers also criticize the high cost of health insurance.
As Tom Conway, Vice-President with USW International says:
“This strike is about safe staffing levels inside the refineries and staffing levels of our maintenance workforces and having safe and reliable staffing in the refineries. And the situation that exists today just has become unacceptable. We have people who are working twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen continuous days without a day off on 12 hour shifts. And people are stressed with an amazing amount of overtime and fatigues and sleep deprivation. It’s dangerous. It’s a dangerous way to run an operation like a fuel refinery.”
The oil companies have been benefiting from hiring outsourcing companies to do the work and thereby they save millions of dollars in social benefits such as social security and vacations. This has become one of the main points in the negotiation because the oil companies have been attempting to regularize this practice.
About outsourcing, the USW Vice-President Gary Beevers says that “… 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.”
“The US steel workers suffer the same outsourcing process and labor flexibilization that Brazilian workers have faced for years. The fight against the bosses’ greed is worldwide. Our trade union is supportive of the historic struggle of our U.S. brothers and sisters”, says Herbert Claros, vice-president with the Metalworkers’ Union of São José dos Campos.

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