Steelworkers strike expands to Port Arthur and beyond

The United Steelworkers union has expanded its strike to the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur.

It also plans to walk out of two refineries and a chemical facility, all in Louisiana.

The Port Arthur action began early Saturday. The Motiva refinery is a joint venture between Shell Oil and Saudi Refining, which is a subsidiary of Saudi Aramaco.

The other three actions are set for early Sunday. The two refineries are Motiva facilities and chemical plant is Shell’s.

“The industry’s refusal to meaningfully address safety issues through good faith bargaining gave us no other option but to expand our work stoppage,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard, in a statement.

Some 1,350 USW members are employed at the three refineries and the chemical plant.

The work stoppage began at midnight on Feb 1. Previously, 11 facilities and 5,200 workers were out on the strike. Five are in the Houston area. The companies say all but one of those refineries and plants are operating normally. The other was half shut for maintenance and the whole refinery taken offline after the strike.

Motiva says on its website: “The company has activated its contingency plans to ensure a safe and orderly handover of operations at all three sites from union-represented employees to fully trained and qualified Motiva employees, who will safely operate the refineries.”

On Thursday, the union rejected Shell’s most recent offer. Shell is representing the oil industry in the contract talks.

“We remain committed to reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement with the United Steelworkers,” Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said Friday in a prepared statement. “Out of respect for the negotiations, Shell will not comment on specific aspects of what is being discussed.”

Saturday morning Shell issued this statement:

“We are extremely disappointed that the USW has issued additional strike notices for Motiva Port Arthur Refinery beginning at midnight Friday, and Motiva Convent, Motiva Norco and Shell Chemicals Norco, beginning at midnight Saturday. We believe this move sets the wrong tone for both parties to move forward and reach an agreement. We remain committed to continued safe operations and productive negotiations.”

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.

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

Reporter L.M. Sixel contributed to this report.