Oil strike not quite over

oil_workers_0618After four months on the picket line, workers at the BP Husky refinery in Toledo, Ohio, are starting to return to work. United Steelworkers Local 1-346 was the most recent local to ratify a local agreement in the national oil strike that began Feb. 1 and at one point involved 15 refineries across the country. That leaves only the Texas City, Texas, Marathon works still out.

Local 1-346, like all 30,000 USW members in the oil industry, wanted to save jobs and stop excessive overtime for the sake of safety. The local was up against a particularly hostile management. Refinery manager Mark Dangler even wrote an anti-union op-ed piece that was published in the March 3 Toledo Blade. Dangler made the outrageous claim that “the strike is about union clout, not safety or pay.”

The contract, which the union leadership did not recommend, passed by a slim majority of strike-weary members. It allows BP to cut 28 out of roughly 300 jobs as workers quit, retire or die. This was a setback but not a total defeat for the union, as Dangler and his team wanted unlimited powers to eliminate positions as workers leave.

Members of Local 13-1 in Texas City rejected the company’s offer on May 18. Marathon is still trying to gut safety provisions that previous owner BP agreed to after a 2005 explosion killed 15 workers. On top of that, management wants workers to wear pagers that would allow the company to call them to work outside of their regular scheduled hours, with only an hour’s notice.

USW Local 7-1, at the other struck BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., was also one of the last to get a local agreement. There, the contract passed in early May, with 92 percent of the members voting for it. “It’s got the safety stuff the workers wanted,” said Local 7-1 Director Mike Millsap. “I think it shows that when pushed, workers are willing to stand up.” (Northwest Indiana Times, May 11)