United Steelworkers rally in downtown Houston after rejecting Shell contract offer

A day after union representatives rejected Shell Oil Co.’s latest contract offer, members of the United Steelworkers union and their supporters stepped up the pressure on Friday.

About 250 protesters descended on One Shell Plaza in downtown Houston during lunchtime, chanting and singing as they circled the large headquarters building several times. With local Democratic U.S. Reps. Gene Green and Al Green leading the way, the group chanted “What do we want? Fair Contract! When do we want it? Now!”

The union, which represents 30,000 workers at refineries, chemical plants, pipelines and oil terminals nationwide, including 5,000 in the Houston area, went on strike against nine facilities early Sunday morning after its negotiations with Shell broke down. Shell is representing the oil industry at the bargaining table.

“Shell respects the right for people to peacefully protest,” company spokesman Ray Fisher said Friday in a written statement. “We also remain committed to continuing negotiations with USW with the ultimate goal of reaching a mutual agreement for both parties.”

“The United States was not built on outsourcing,” Green, who led the crowd in, “We Shall Overcome.”

Randy Rodriguez carried a photo of his father-in-law, Ray Gonzalez, who died from severe burns he received while working at the former BP refinery in Texas City that is now owned by Marathon. Steven Flores, president of the Communication Workers of America Local 6222, was holding a photo of Maurice Moore, who died in the same accident.

“This is why the strike is so important,” Rodriguez said, pointing to the photo of his father-in-law. “He was a great man.”

Rodriguez, health and safety chairman of CWA Local 6222, said he wants to emphasize the importance of safety.

“It’s something people forget about,” he said. “But it’s something we have to deal with every day.”

The Steelworkers represent more than 230 refineries, oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical facilities in the U.S. Of those, 65 are refineries which produce nearly two-thirds of the oil in the nation.

The offer, which the union received Wednesday night, was the company’s sixth to go across the negotiating table since the two sides have been meeting to hammer out a new labor agreement.

While the union called strikes at nine facilities, union members continue to work as usual at the other plants that are operating under “rolling 24-hour” contract extensions, which extend existing contracts a day at a time until negotiators reach an agreement or one side calls off the extension.

In addition to the national talks, local unions are also negotiating issues at individual sites.

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