Steelworkers strike extends to BP plants outside Texas

The United Steelworkers union is broadening its nationwide walkout to include two more refineries.

Early Sunday, the union is planning to go on strike against two BP facilities in the Midwest, union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock confirmed. That will bring the total number of plants on strike to 11, after union members walked out of nine facilities, including five in the Houston area, a week ago.

The latest work stoppages are scheduled to begin 12:01 a.m. Sunday at BP’s refineries in Toledo, Ohio and Whiting, Ind., Hancock said.

BP issued a statement saying it is disappointed the union is launching a strike at both the Whiting Refinery and BP-Husky Toledo Refinery.

“BP remains at the negotiating table and is committed to reaching an agreement that provides good wages while giving management the flexibility it needs to enhance safety, improve efficiency and remain competitive with others in the industry,” BP spokesman Scott Dean said in a written statement.

The company added that it is committed to ensuring a safe and orderly transition at 11:59 p.m. Saturday night. BP has trained replacement workers made up primarily of current and former BP employees to operate the refinery for the duration of this strike, Dean said.

“We hope this strike will be as short as possible and for workers to return with a contract that ensures long-term prosperity for everyone,” BP said.

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 after its negotiations with Shell Oil Co. broke down.

Shell is representing the oil industry at the bargaining table.

Negotiations resumed, but the union turned down Shell’s latest contract proposal on Wednesday.

The union is striking over health and safety issues, excessive overtime and contracting out of jobs.

Hancock characterized the disputes as unfalr labor practices and accused Shell of “bad faith bargaining” by refusing to give relevant information to the union and threatening retaliation against the strikers.

When workers strike over economic issues such as higher wages, a company can permanently replace the strikers. But when a strike is considered an unfair labor practice dispute, a company cannot permanently replace the striking workers, Hancock said.

“We are not aware of any unfair labor practice charges filed against Shell,” Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said in a prepared statement.

“We regret that we have been unable to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with USW prior to contract expiration,” Fisher added. “We remain committed to resolving the remaining issues through collective bargaining at the bargaining table. We remain committed to providing competitive pay and benefits to our employees in an environment where people want to grow, develop and provide for their families.”

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

While the union called strikes at 11 facilities, union members continue to work as usual at the other plants are operating under “rolling 24-hour” contract extensions, which extend 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.