Strike update: BP training additional replacement workers

One of the employers affected by the sprawling United Steelworkers strike at U.S. refineries and petrochemical plants announced Wednesday it has begun to train additional replacements for the absent workers.

“These replacement workers are prepared to safely and compliantly operate the refineries until the USW ends the strikes and instructs all employees to return to work,” BP said in a labor negotiations update Wednesday morning. “We believe this approach ensures the safety of our employees and fulfills the needs of our customers until new contract agreements are reached.”

The union went on strike against two BP refineries, one in Ohio and another in Indiana, on Feb. 8., a week after the union launched initial walkouts at nine facilities. Of the 11 refineries and chemical plants on strike, five are in the Houston area.

BP did not respond when asked whether it was bringing in supervisors from other refineries to operate the two Midwest refineries or whether it was using staffing services that specialize in providing replacement refinery workers during labor disputes.

The union responded negatively to the announcement.

“We’re concerned about the safety of the facility if they’re hiring people off the street, if that is what they’re doing,” USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said. The union is also concerned if BP is relying on supervisors who may not have operated a refinery in years and aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the equipment.

The Steelworkers represent 30,000 workers in oil refineries, chemical plants, pipelines and oil terminals nationwide. Across the U.S., the union represents more than 230 refineries, oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical facilities in the United States. Of those, 65 are refineries that produce nearly two-thirds of the oil in the nation.

Union members at plants not on strike continue to work as usual under “rolling 24-hour” contract extensions that extend contracts a day at a time until negotiators reach an agreement or one side calls them off.

The BP statement announced the company’s “hope that USW workers return to work soon and that we are able to agree on contracts that ensure safe, sustainable and competitive operations at the refineries and continue to fairly compensate employees for their work.”