Oil refinery workers begin major strike

Workers on the picket line at refinery in Catlettsburg, Ky.WW photo: Benji Pyles

Workers on the picket line at refinery in Catlettsburg, Ky.
WW photo: Benji Pyles

Catlettsburg, Ky., Feb. 5 — Oil refinery workers here are on what they say is their biggest strike since 1980. The strike was forced on the workers after the energy industry failed to reach a deal with the union and renew their contract.

The United Steelworkers Union represents workers at more than 200 oil refineries, terminals, pipelines and chemical plants in the U.S. The USW announced a work stoppage starting Feb. 1 at nine refineries in the U.S., including the Marathon Petroleum Company’s refinery here in Catlettsburg.

According to the MPC, the refinery produces 242,000 barrels each day at the Catlettsburg facility. What that really means is that the approximately 775 employees and 800 contract workers produce that much oil.

Explaining the reasons for the strike, USW International Vice President Gary Beevers wrote, “This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; 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.” (usw.org, Feb. 1)

The refineries and oil facilities that are not under the work stoppage are under a rolling 24-hour contract extension.

“Shell refused to provide us with a counter-offer and left the bargaining table,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage.” (usw.org)

Dave Martin, vice president of USW Local 719 (District 8), told Workers World that the union’s main concern was safety. “Safe working conditions, including proper staffing levels, could provide 150 to 200 good local jobs,” said Martin.