Striking refinery employees could come back to work by end of March

By Andrea Rumbaugh

United Steelworkers strikers and three Motiva refineries have reached agreements setting the goal of returning all employees to work by March 31.

“With the local agreement now in place, we will use a systematic and methodical approach to bring employees back to work,” Ray Fisher, spokesman for the Shell Oil Co. and Motiva facilities, said in a written statement. “The company has already begun reaching out to represented employees to begin the process. We look forward to all Motiva employees returning to work by our target date of March 31.”

The Motiva refineries are located in Port Arthur, Convent, La., and Norco, La.

Last week, negotiators for Shell, which was representing the industry, and the union agreed on a deal that provides a national framework for contracts. It outlined pay increases and an agreement to review safety and staffing levels, among other provisions.

Individual plants and refineries are now working out local issues before ratifying agreements and going back to work.

According to a text Tuesday night from the Steelworkers union, strikers at Shell are voting this week.

At Shell Deer Park, “local USW representatives have signed the Return to Work agreement. The next step is voting by union members for contract ratification,” Fisher said. There isn’t a timetable for when the vote will occur.

At Tesoro, “units resolved most issues – bargaining return to work,” the text read.

“We are pleased to have made progress with the local chapters at all of our USW-represented locations,” Brendan Smith, spokesman for Tesoro, said in a written statement. “We remain committed to direct, good faith discussions as we continue to work toward local agreements and we look forward to welcoming back our workers and resuming normal operations together.”

The text also said that BP, LyondellBasell and Marathon Petroleum Corp. continue “fights on tough local issues.”

“LyondellBasell has negotiated diligently and in good faith with the USW from the beginning and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith for a fair and responsible contract,” said spokesman George Smalley in a written statement. “At this stage in the negotiating process it would be inappropriate to comment on or to characterize our interactions with the USW.”

Marathon declined to comment.

The Steelworkers called the strike on Feb. 1 at nine plants and later expanded it to 15 facilities, including five in the Houston area.