|Photo by Max Burkhalter|
|Lee Medley and the USW District 13-1 union members outside of the USW Hall in Pasadena.|
All week long representatives from United Steelworkers and Royal Dutch Shell have been ensconced in some undisclosed Houston location trying to hammer out a national contract for the USW oil refinery workers that both sides can agree on. They've admitted that the two sides have been talking in the same room and everything all week, but that's all they will admit to.
The national arm of USW, negotiating on behalf of more than 30,000 oil refinery workers, and Shell, negotiating on behalf of the oil companies, have been grappling over the details of this contract - a contract that sets the standards that local USW union districts use to negotiate local contracts with the oil companies - since January 21. When they failed to reach an agreement by the end of the old contract USW started calling union workers out on strike from refineries and chemical plants on February 1. Local USW workers at Shell Deer Park, LyondellBasell and Marathon's Texas City refinery were some of the first pulled out. Since the start of the strike USW has called out more than 6,000 workers from 15 chemical plants, including 12 oil refineries, on strike.
Meanwhile, USW and Shell representatives have met or talked via teleconference in an attempt to work out a deal, but have repeatedly come up short, butting heads over various issues including the use of contract workers, safety standards and the current fatigue policy. USW has rejected seven contract offers so far. After only meeting briefly via teleconference last week, the fact that the two sides were going to be in the same city and the same room this week seemed like progress.
Still, as negotiations dragged from Monday into Tuesday and then into Tuesday night, USW sent out a text update to its members which managed to come off as both reassuring and as a thin-veiled threat to the oil companies: "Bargaining is moving along. Industry needs to close the gaps and end the strike or see it expand. Stay tough." More »