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USA : Union deal rejected; parties continue negotiations

United Steel Workers

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2015 7:34 pm

Union deal rejected;

parties continue negotiationsBy Sherry KoonceThe News staff writerPort Arthur News Online

The latest offer made to the United Steel Workers Union was rejected Thursday while workers were instructed to prepare to join the unfair labor practices strike — now in its 18th day — if called upon.

The USW, which sent a text-message alert Thursday to say it had declined the latest offer,  represents 30,000 workers in oil refineries, chemical plants, pipeline and oil terminals nationwide, including many here in Southeast Texas.

Both sides of the labor dispute, union workers and industry negotiators represented by the Royal Dutch Shell, had resumed talks after a week hiatus, but as of Thursday evening no deal had been struck.

The ULP strike, USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said, is about the oil industry’s refusal to negotiate over mandatory subjects, undue delays in providing information, impeded bargaining and threats issued to workers if they joined the ULP strike.

According to Hancock, one of the sticking points is industry’s refusal to adequately address health and safety issues, and contracting out daily maintenance work.

When company employees leave or retire, very often they are replaced with contractors — workers who are employed by another firm and engaged to perform duties at plants. Those contract workers, Hancock said, have not received the same health and safety department training as company employees do.

“They are a health and safety risk. They generally don’t understand the nuances of a chemical plant because they are not aware of anything that could possible go wrong,” Hancock said.

The safety issue is not new. It’s one that the USW Union has been fighting for years.

“We’ve got to the point where if we don’t do something it will be a total contract maintenance force which fails to understand all the ins and outs of the facility and do not have the same high quality training program,” Hancock said. “It has reached the point where we have to do something because pretty soon all the full-time people will be gone, they will be retired.”

At present, there are 11 facilities around the country engaged in the Unfair Labor Practice strike.

Though there has not been an announcement of more sites joining the strike, local plants are gearing up for the possibility.

At Port Arthur’s Motiva Enterprises refinery, white tents visible from the road near the refinery’s administration offices at 19th and Houston Ave. are reported to be erected in preparation for the strike.

Along Savannah, a strike shed has been erected for picketers to congregate around, if a strike occurs, it was reported.

Motiva’s union contracts expire at midnight Friday.

At that time, union workers will be operating without a contract, and could elect to strike immediately.

More than 800 union workers are employed at Motiva.

Motiva could play a significant role in the strike since the company is a joint venture between Shell Oil Company and Saudi Aramco.

Verna Rutherford, spokesperson for the local Motiva plant, said Thursday the company and union representatives were still negotiating.

On a national level, Hancock said the Union is at the table and ready to bargain.

Union workers at plants not on strike continue to work on a rolling 24-hour contract extension.

Hancock said in an e-mail nine Beaumont-Port Arthur facilities are operating under a rolling 24-hour contract extension, impacting the following refineries and chemical plants:

• Chevron Corporation in Port Arthur, whose contract expired Feb. 1 and affects more than 80 workers

• Chevron Phillips Chemical in Port Arthur, whose contract expired Feb. 1 and affects more than 170 workers

• Chevron Corp. Distribution Center and Clerical in Port Arthur, whose contract expired Feb. 1 and affects more than five workers

• ExxonMobil Refinery in Beaumont, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects more than 750 workers

• Exxon Mobil Corp. Pipeline Co. in Texas, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects more than 25 workers

• Huntsman Corp. in Port Neches, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects over 250 workers

• Motiva Enterprises in Port Neches, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects more than 15 workers

• TPC Group Inc. in Port Neches, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects more than 80 workers

• Valero Energy Corp. in Port Arthur, whose contract expired Jan. 31 and affects more than 550 workers

Hancock said there are an estimated 4,245 USW union workers in 18 Beaumont-Port Arthur facilities whose contracts expire between Jan. 31, 2015 and April 15, 2016.

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Posted in on Thursday, February 19, 2015 7:34 pm.

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