USW Accuses LyondellBasell of Refusing to Negotiate

Anyone who thought the United Steelworkers oil refinery strike was over has another thing coming. Even though the national USW strike technically ended for most of the more than 6,000 striking union workers about a month ago, the local members of USW Distrct 13-227, the union at LyondellBasell's Pasadena refinery, are still on strike and without a contract. Now the national arm of USW is calling the company out.

On Monday, the national arm of the USW issued a release stating that LyondellBasell officials are claiming they're at an impasse with USW negotiators but the company reps are really just refusing to negotiate. LyondellBasell and local USW negotiators have been in talks ever since the national strike formally ended in March. They've had a federal mediator involved from the start of these talks, but have failed to get anywhere, with both sides implying -- and sometimes stating outright -- that it's because the other side is unwilling to negotiate and compromise enough to make a deal.

USW 227 members have been out of the refinery since the national USW called a strike on February 1 over national pattern contract negotiations between USW, negotiating on behalf of about 30,000 oil refinery workers, and Royal Dutch Shell, negotiating on behalf of the oil companies. Before the two sides managed to cobble together a national contract agreement more than 6,500 workers at 15 plants, including 12 refineries, were on strike and walking the picket lines.

Once the two sides reached a deal on the national pattern, the local unions had to work with local company representatives using the national pattern to construct local contracts.The striking local unions also had to work out return-to-work agreements, but most outfits managed to vault these hurdles within a couple of weeks. However, that has not been the case at either LyondellBasell in Pasadena, or at Marathon's Galveston Bay Refinery, aka the Texas City refinery.

On April 11 LyondellBasell gave the USW 227 negotiating committee its "last, best and final offer" on a contract, a move that forced the union committee to put the contract offer to a vote before all members of USW 227. About 300 of the 400 striking USW members voted and the contract was soundly rejected, according to union members. LyondellBasell declared the two parties were at a bargaining impasse and announced the contract offer would be implemented on April 20 whether the union approved it or not.

USW officials filed the union's 12th unfair labor practices complaint against LyondellBasell with the National Labor Relations Board on April 20, according to the release. On Monday USW national also announced that union members have sent a letter to the federal mediator charged with handling the negotiations between the two parties and asked that the mediator help them get LyondellBasell back to the bargaining table. So far the mediator has been unable to restart negotiations, according to USW.

The negotiating committee and LyondellBasell have been butting heads since they started trying to work out a local deal, union insiders have told us over the past few weeks. Still, the company declaring an impasse -- a move companies usually make when trying to end a strike -- was an unpleasant surprise to the negotiators since they thought they were making progress. "LyondellBasell used the declaration of impasse to bully its workers to accept a substandard contract that does not stop the company from working its employees to the point of exhaustion," Jim Lefton, a USW District 13 staff representative that has been at the negotiation table, stated in a release. "There is plenty of movement that can be made at the bargaining table to address the open issues and that's why we urge LyondellBasell to return to the bargaining table."

Local USW reps have continued to insist that they are not and never were at an impasse and that LyondellBasell is just trying to break the union and get rid of the union presence at the refinery, USW 227 strike coordinator Joshua Lege says.

Over at Marathon, union negotiators previously rejected Marathon's contract offer. Marathon followed up by rejecting USW's counteroffer and issuing a letter to the striking employees. Marathon plant manager Ray Brooks sent out a four-page letter to USW members last week detailing the contract offer "to make absolutely sure [union members] understand the total offer." Brooks wrote that Marathon has been trying to end the "economic strike" -- the union says it's an unfair labor practice strike, meaning the workers can't be replaced, whereas with an economic strike they can -- but USW has rejected their offers, Brooks stated in the letter. He accused the union of not negotiating in "good faith."

On Sunday about 800 of the 1,100 striking union members voted to reject Marathon's "last, best and final offer," Reuters reports. Local area union members have said that difficult relations between Marathon and the local union are part of why USW went on strike in the first place. The two sides are meeting today with a federal mediator.

Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry says Marathon doesn't have any comment on the negotiation process at this time.

We've requested comment from the local USW District 13-1 reps and we'll update as soon as we hear back.

No word on if or when LyondellBasell and USW 227 members will sit down and start talking again. We've also requested comment from LyondellBasell and we'll update on that as soon as we hear back.


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