Strike may hit Texas refinery, national contract talks continue

31 January 2012 21:49  [Source: ICIS news]

A US refinery(recast first paragraph, adds Shell quote in paragraph 6)

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A worker strike could hit a Valero refinery in Texas as early as Wednesday, sources said,  while national union-refiner contract talks continued on Tuesday.

Workers at Valero's 292,000 bbl/day Port Arthur refinery in Texas could go on strike if the union and local refinery managers do not agree on a new contract by the end of Tuesday, said a spokesman for Valero.

Valero has received notice that refinery workers could strike if no local agreement was reached before Wednesday, said spokesman Bill Day. The refinery is one of the largest in the US.

Valero plans to operate the Port Arthur refinery with supervisors and non-union workers at planned rates if a strike does occur, Day said.

A midnight deadline also loomed over national negotiations between the United Steelworkers (USW) and Shell, representing the US refining industry, said USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock.

Shell spokesperson Kayla Macke said the company was “optimistic that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be negotiated with the USW”.

The national negotiations were being held separately from talks between local workers and individual refineries, and a strike could still occur at the Port Arthur refinery even if a national agreement is reached.

ConocoPhillips spokesman Rich Johnson said there has been no notice of a possible strike from the national negotiations.

The labour talks have generally focused on health and safety issues.

Wages and benefits were also under discussion.

Refineries with USW affiliations have contingency plans in the case of a strike.

Valero’s 180,000 bbl/day Memphis refinery in Tennessee has a shutdown agreement with the company, where in the event of work stoppage because of a contract expiration, the union workers will stay on for 72 hours for a proper shut down of the plant. Day said additional non-union workers would not be brought in to keep the Memphis refinery running.

BP spokesman Dean Scott said productive discussions continue at its refineries.

“If a strike is called, we will put our refineries on a warm stand-by or reduce operations to a level appropriate for winter,” Scott said. “We don’t intend to hire replacement workers.”

Johnson said ConocoPhillips hopes an agreement can be reached at the national level for its five USW refineries.

“We are planning to reach agreements with our local unions that are good for our employees and protect the future of some of the best jobs in American industry,” Johnson said.

The company also has a responsibility to continue operations, he said. For this reason, the refineries have a labour action plan to operate using personnel who are fully trained to safely operate the refineries.

In 2009, both sides agreed to extend the deadline for the national agreement a few days to avoid strikes.

By: Sheena Martin
+1 713 525 2653

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