Chevron ships out union workers at San Fran refinery

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After weeks of stalled negotiations between Chevron’s Richmond, California refinery and the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union, union members voted to go on strike last night. In anticipation of the walkout, Chevron made an unusual preemptive move to keep the plant in operation. They bussed out more than 500 union workers and brought in non-union replacements to keep the operation going while negotiations with the union continue. This has some labor leaders crying foul, but analysts agree that a sudden shutdown of a major refinery during the current supply chain crisis in the oil and gas industry would be disastrous. (Reuters)

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Union workers were removed from a Chevron Corp oil refinery near San Francisco hours ahead of a deadline to begin the first labor strike at the gasoline producing plant in more than 40 years.

More than 500 United Steelworkers members were bussed out of the plant Sunday evening and replaced by non-union staff. No new contract talks are planned, said USW Local 5 First Vice President B.K. White in an interview.

The existing labor contract at the Richmond, California, refinery expired Feb. 1 and efforts since then failed to reach an agreement. The union twice voted to reject the company’s offers.

Most of the USW locals at other Chevron facilities around the country have already agreed to the new contract. All of their workers are scheduled to receive a 12% pay raise over four years in addition to other expanded benefits. But the workers at the Richmond plant are demanding 5% more than the other facilities based on the cost of living in that area. The union also claims that the plant is understaffed and they are demanding that Chevron hire even more union workers (at the inflated labor rate) to reduce requirements for overtime work.

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Chevron had already met the union part way on their demands, agreeing to additional pay hikes to cover the regional cost of living. But the union hasn’t given any ground and they were preparing to walk out anyway. Without any further compromise, Chevron clearly had to walk away and bring in new people to avoid shutting the plant down.

Considering everything that’s going on in the world right now, particularly the skyrocketing cost of gasoline as global oil supplies are disrupted, it’s hard not to conclude that USW is trying to take advantage of a bad situation by threatening to make it worse. They haven’t gone on strike in forty years. Why else would they choose this precise moment of crisis to threaten to shut down a major fuel provider?

Chevron’s decision to replace the workers will no doubt be challenged in court unless a new agreement can be reached quickly. That will keep the supply lines flowing and prevent an even more drastic increase in prices at the pump, yet it will likely hit their bottom line one way or the other. But if the entire plan falls through and we wind up losing a refinery, you can expect to see both gas and heating prices rise even more quickly. And when you’re breaking out your credit card to fill up your tank after that happens, just keep the United Steelworkers in mind because you’ll have them to thank in part for what you’re experiencing.

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David Strom 8:16 PM | July 17, 2024
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