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article imageWorkers threaten to strike Sunday at huge Texas refinery

By Nathan Salant     Feb 21, 2015 in Business
Port Arthur - Workers at the largest oil refinery in the United States joined a growing nationwide strike Saturday when they left their jobs at the Motiva Enterprises LLC facility in Port Arthur, Texas.
Negotiations had been underway between Motiva, a joint venture between Shell Oil Co. and Saudi Aramco, and the steelworkers union that represents tens of thousands of refinery workers nationwide when the clock hit midnight, signaling the expiration of a three-year labor contract.
The union also issued strike notices for the following day at Motiva’s two U.S. Gulf Coast refineries in Louisiana, according to the Reuters news service.
The three Motiva refineries would raise the total of refineries on strike to 18.5 percent of U.S. oil production, Reuters said, but management at all but one facility has pledged to keep operating with replacement workers.
"The industry’s refusal to meaningfully address safety issues through good faith bargaining gave us no other option but to expand our work stoppage," United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard said in a written statement, Reuters said.
But Shell spokesman Ray Fisher told Reuters that the walkout was “the wrong tone” for reaching a new agreement with the union over safety, salary and benefits.
“We believe this move sets the wrong tone for both parties to move forward and reach an agreement," Fisher said.
"We remain committed to continued safe operations and productive negotiations," he said.
Motiva and the union have until Sunday morning to resolve the standoff or more than 1,000 workers will join the strike, bringing to 6,550 the number of refinery workers who have left their jobs in the dispute.
The strike is already the largest refinery-related national work stoppage since 1980, Reuters said.
If the Texas workers strike, it would be first expansion of the strike since Feb. 7, when workers at British Petroleum refineries in Indiana and Ohio left their jobs.
The strike began Feb. 1 with workers at Shell’s major joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, Texas, and at a nearby chemical plant.
Gary Beevers, the union’s lead negotiator, said safe staffing levels at refineries and chemical plants were a major issue in the negotiations, as was language preserving agreements from previous contracts.
Workers also are striking at refineries and plants owned by Lyondell Basell, Marathon Petroleum Corp., and Tesoro Corp. in California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington state, Reuters said.
Tesoro’s refinery near Martinez, Calif., shut down shortly after the strike began because the plant already was partially shut down for a scheduled overhaul.
The union wants an industrywide three-year contract to cover 30,000 workers at 63 U.S. refineries, Reuters said.
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