January 31, 2009 at 2:35 pm #3207
<First Article – Thousands of US Oil workers Montana to Gulf prepare for a strike Feb 1>
Thousands of refinery workers prepare to picket
Last update Jan 31, 2009 1:15 pm
HOUSTON (AP) – With a third contract offer rejected, some 24,000 refinery workers from the Gulf of Mexico to Montana prepared to head to the picket lines Saturday just hours before an existing labor agreement expires.
The nation’s biggest refiner, Valero Energy Corp., said it would shut down some facilities if workers strike. So did European oil company BP PLC. Shell Oil Co., the lead negotiator for the industry, along with Exxon Mobil Corp., said its refineries would continue to make gasoline, diesel and other fuels using nonunion or replacement workers.
Chemical refiners would also be affected. LyondellBassell Industries said it was bringing in managers from locations not involved in contract negotiations to keep refineries going.
A strike would affect 60 producers, according to Lynne Baker, a spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers, which represents more than 30,000 oil workers nationwide. Bobby Hollis, chairman of the negotiating committee for the Steelworkers at Valero, said it was doubtful that there would be an agreement by the midnight deadline.
Thursday, union negotiators turned down the most recent offer of a 2.5 percent wage increase for each of the next three years, in addition to changes in medical coverage. The impasse comes with refiners already cutting back production and industry experts are divided over whether a strike would hit the pocketbooks of motorists.
Job numbers are in free fall, which has led to unprecedented declines in miles driven by Americans.
Motorists cut their driving by 12.9 billion miles in November, down 5.3 percent from the same month a year earlier, the largest such decline of any November since monthly data estimates began in 1971, the Federal Highway Administration said this month.
On the surface, that suggests retail gasoline prices should be falling, but refiners are reading the same headlines and have aggressively cut back production. Refiner cutbacks and the threat of a strike pushed gasoline futures up throughout the week on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Friday, gasoline futures rose nearly 4 cents to $1.27 per gallon. When gasoline futures rise, retail prices tend to follow. The national average for a gallon of gasoline hit $1.846 on Friday. While that’s still $1.14 less than last year at this time, gas is getting closer to $2 a gallon just a month after bottoming out at $1.61.
With refiners turning away oil shipments, crude storage levels have risen by about 20 million barrels in the past month, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Antoine Halff, an analyst with Newedge Group, said workers may actually be doing the industry a favor by going on strike with demand for gasoline so low.
Many of the refineries are on the Gulf Coast, near Houston and New Orleans. There are about 4,000 refinery workers in Houston alone. But the strike would reach into California, Montana, and Tennessee, which also have refineries with labor contracts expiring.
Valero told employees Friday that it would close its facilities in Delaware City, Del., and Memphis, Tenn., if there is a strike.
The company said it would keep its Port Arthur, Texas, plant open with a contingency work force that is being trained.
“We would rather reach an agreement without a work stoppage at all,” said spokesman Bill Day.
Exxon Mobil said negotiations were ongoing, but that plants would remain operational until a collective bargaining agreement was reached.
AP Energy Writer Ernest Scheyder in New York contributed to this report
January 31, 2009 at 2:37 pm #6294
Oil refinery strike spreads
By Ed Crooks, Arush Chopra and Andrew Taylor
Published: January 30 2009 10:28 | Last updated: January 30 2009 12:46
Strikes and protests have been staged by workers at several British refineries and power plants on Friday in the widening dispute over the hiring of foreign workers for a refinery construction project on the east coast of England.
Total’s Lindsey oil refinery at Killingholme and the nearby ConocoPhillips refinery at Humber, both in Lincolnshire, the Ineos refinery at Grangemouth in Scotland and the Petroplus refinery on Teesside were all hit by walk-outs.
Contractors at other sites in Scotland, including two power stations, a gas plant and a chemical plant, took part in demonstrations, union officials said. There were no signs of any disruption to fuel supplies.
The dispute is over Total’s use of an Italian contractor to build a 200m unit at its Lindesy plant. Irem, the contractor, has brought in its own workers from Italy and Portugal, who are sleeping in accommodation barges, rather than hiring local staff.
The protests reflect mounting tensions over employment, as the number of people out of work and claiming benefits in the UK rises towards 2m.
Union leaders denied that workers were taking action because the company had employed foreign labour, saying that the protests had been sparked by its refusal to consider hiring UK staff.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest union, told BBC radio: “What’s happening at the Lindsey oil refinery is the same situation that’s occurring in two or three or even more construction sites across Britain.
“It’s not the question of foreign workers. It is the question that some of these companies… are saying they will exclusively debar UK workers; they will not consider UK workers under any circumstances.”
Mr. Simpson also said in a press statment issued later on Friday that Unite’s national executive, the governing body of the union, had called for a national protest in Westminster and that Unite was consulting its lawyers on the potential illegality of some employers’ practices in the engineering and construction industries.
A Unite official had earlier confirmed that the walk-outs were “unofficial action” and that the union could therefore not condone them.
Privately, however, union officials said that they understood the British workers’ frustration.
One said: “This is not about excluding migrant workers, but making sure there is a level playing field and that British workers get the same opportunities for jobs.”
Total told the BBC that Irem, which employs a specialist workforce, had won the contract to construct the new HDS-3 unit at the Lindsey plant, after a “fair” tendering process.
January 31, 2009 at 2:40 pm #6293
Here are two update articles on the how strikes going on this weekend:
First is on the – US contract strikes from Gulf to Montana (strike may actually benifit most refineries due low demand markets)
Second is on the – UK/Scottland & EU protest walkouts over foreign workers brought in for Lindsay refinery project work from Italy & Portgual.
January 31, 2009 at 4:02 pm #6291
Q&A: What is the dispute about?
Jan 31, 2009 Saturday/ BBC/ Martin Shankleman
Hundreds of workers across the UK have joined disputes protesting about the use of foreign workers at an oil refinery in Lincolnshire.
BBC employment correspondent Martin Shankleman looks at the causes and implications of the walk-outs.
Protests have been held across the UK
What is the dispute about?
The dispute reflects union alarm that work on key infrastructure projects, such as power stations, has been subcontracted to foreign workers, and that UK workers are being denied the right to carry out the work.
It centres on a contract to extend the diesel refining capacity at a refinery owned by oil giant Total in Lincolnshire.
The contract to complete the work was awarded to the California-based engineering group Jacobs in June 2006 with a completion date of 2009. They then subcontracted to an Italian firm, IREM, after a tender process in which five UK and two European contractors responded.
It is understood that the terms of the contract specified that IREM would be using its existing permanent Italian and Portuguese workforce for the job.
During a recession the sight of foreign workers carrying out such work is proving inflammatory to some, especially when they believe that suitably qualified unemployed UK contractors are available.
So have any UK workers lost their jobs?
Total has said that there will be no direct redundancies as a result of this contract being awarded to IREM. It has also said that all IREM staff will be paid the same as the existing contractors working on the project. It is understood that there are 100 foreign workers on the new project, with a further 300 to come.
But Total says that up to 1,000 workers, employed from the local community, have already been working on the project for 18 months.
Why were the jobs given to foreign workers?
We can’t be sure without seeing the contracts, which are confidential.
In a similar case involving the construction of the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire, the main contractor, Alsthom, has brought in Spanish sub-contractors to carry out key work involved in installing the boiler and turbine.
It is believed one of these subcontractors has its own labour force for the work, which is specialised. In such a case, the subcontractor prefers to use its own staff.
Do the unions have a legal case for challenging the recruitment of foreign workers?
A core principle of EU law is that the UK broadly accepts the right of nationals of other member states automatically to live and work in Britain.
The UK agreed to this when it joined the Common Market, as the European Union was then known, in 1973. So it is difficult to see how anyone can challenge the right of a foreign company to bring in people from overseas to work here.
However, Unite believes it could be illegal for companies to exclude UK workers from even being considered for job vacancies, which it claims has happened during this dispute.
What are the broader implications?
The dispute has rapidly assumed a political dimension because the behaviour of the contractors appears to fly in the face of Gordon Brown’s stated aim from 2007 to create “British jobs for British workers”.
A government spokesman said this morning that while the PM does not regret making that statement, the government would be speaking to the industry in the coming days to ensure they do all they can to support the UK economy.
The issue has also assumed wider significance because the UK’s ageing power stations system is in urgent need of an overhaul.
The Unite union reckons that 60% of our power stations will have to be replaced in the next few years. It wants to take steps now to prevent future work being awarded to firms which will bring in foreign workers.
Are the protests legal?
Any strikes called without a ballot and proper notification are counter to employment law and hence illegal.
However, the unions say these walk-outs have been spontaneous and unofficial. So they stress that while they sympathise with the strikes, they cannot support the stoppages.
February 6, 2009 at 9:28 am #6275
Lindsey refinery strikers return to work
(Thursday 05 February 2009) by industrial reporter Paul Haste
HUNDREDS of oil refinery workers who walked out on unofficial strikes for a week voted to return to work on Thursday.
Lindsey oil refinery strike committee rep Phil Whitehurst said that the 400 strikers had voted “unanimously” to end their dispute over bosses’ unfair hiring practices.
The Total refinery had handed a contract to engineering construction firm Jacobs, which then subcontracted work to an Italian company, IREM.
Some 200 specialist workers were then brought in by IREM, sparking a walkout by Total workers concerned by the bosses’ undercutting of union contracts.
Italian union confederation CGIL leader Sabrina Petrucci confirmed that the Italian subcontractor is a notorious non-union firm. “That says a lot about its approach to industrial relations,” she said.
Solidarity strikes and mass protests across the country piled the pressure on Total to agree to a deal with the Lindsey strike committee on Thursday, when management offered to share a further 200 jobs at the refinery between Italian workers and “British nationals.”
Mr Whitehurst said that the unofficial action had been an “uprising.”
“We have got the MPs worried. I think we have got Gordon Brown worried.
“I don’t think they know how to deal with us. We are not trying to bring the government down, we’re just trying to get them to listen to our concerns at being excluded,” he explained.
Fellow strike committee rep Keith Gibson predicted more fightbacks against bosses’ attempts to make workers pay for the recession by worsening pay and conditions. “This year, working people will understand the situation the country is in,” he warned.
“Over the coming months, there are going to be major battles over jobs. There are thousands and thousands of jobs in this country under threat because of the financial situation.”
Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson pointed out that “Lindsey is part of a much wider problem that will not go away.
“There are still employers who are excluding workers from even applying for work on construction projects, but no European worker should be barred from applying for a British job and absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job,” he stressed.
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