Shell reveals what it says is the sticking point in labor talks

Hours after the United Steelworkers said it would expand its strike to 15 refineries and plants nationwide, Shell Oil, which is bargaining on behalf of the industry took aim at the union.

Late Saturday, Shell released what it said are excerpts of a note to employees

The central issue blocking a settlement is not safety, fatigue, healthcare or wages, the statement said.

It is the union’s demand that Shell replace routine maintenance contractors with union-represented employees. Shell called that unreasonable, saying using contractors in those jobs allows needed flexibility.

Shell says: “We’re open to a variety of ways to maintain a strong roster of skilled craftsmen available to each of our locations. But hiring flexibility is a proven way to protect our core Shell workforce and the long-term economic viability of our business. It is the most effective way to keep our sites running safely, efficiently and reliably. This strategy has served us well as we have not had to conduct any layoff in decades.”

Shell also stressed the union has rejected seven offers it put on the table and it is “seeing little evidence that the USW’s leaders are interested in a meaningful settlement any time in the foreseeable future.”

The union will undoubtedly have something to say about Shell’s statement.

These comments were in the union’s statement earlier Saturday:

“We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties” said USW Vice President Tom Conway, “but adequate staffing levels, worker fatigue and other important safety issues must be addressed.”

“Our members are speaking loud and clear,” said Gary Beevers, USW International Vice President who oversees the union’s oil sector. “If it takes a global fight to win safe workplaces, so be it.”