Working without a Contract

Talks continue between negotiators representing thousands of refinery workers and oil company representatives. They’re trying to hammer out a new national contract. The current agreement has been extended to keep the talks ongoing. Pat Hernandez has more.

The existing contract expired on midnight Saturday. It affects some 30-thousand refinery and chemical workers around the country, including over 4-thousand at 11-area plants.

Lynne Baker : “With a 24-hour rolling extension, the talks continue until either party decides to terminate the agreement, or until a settlement is reached.”

Lynne Baker is a spokeswoman with the United Stweelworkers Union.

“Our main issues are health and safety and healthcare, but then we are discussing such things as: wages, pension, contract language, [and] such items as a successorship clause. So that if a refinery is brought by another company, the workers still have a union contract that is paid attention to.”

The union received several contract offers over the weekend. Bill Day with Valero says they’re optimistic that a mutually satisfactory agreement with the union can be reached.

“We had notified our employees that if there is a work stoppage, we would go ahead and temporarily shut down the refineries in Memphis and Delaware City, but we would continue operations at Port Arthur, using non-union workers from other Valero plants, as well as supervisors.”

Barbara Shook is an analyst with the Energy Intelligence Group. She says a work stoppage would not be catastrophic. Other than a slight increase at the pump, oil companies have ample supplies in inventory, storage tanks are full over over North America and they have plenty of surplus refining capacity elsewhere in the world.

“Demand is down. People are just not taking long trips. Most of them still have their gas-guzzling vehicles parked. A lot of them have bought more fuel-efficient vehicles, and we just not consuming the volumes that we were even six months ago.”

Shook says companies are ready for any contingency.

“Absolutely. They have contract workers lined up and they could take over these jobs. They’ve been doing these jobs on a contract basis for years and years, and because of the ample supplies and inventory, the refiners will likely take advantage of any strike to perform maintenance, and that’s what a lot of the contract workers do anyway.”

The last nationwide strike by refinery workers was in 1980. It lasted three months.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required