U.S. refinery strike passes 18th day but talks resume

The largest U.S refinery workers strike since 1980 passed its 18th day on Wednesday but talks between union and oil company representatives over safety and pay restarted after a gap of a week and went into the night, according to a union text message.

More than 5,000 workers at 11 plants, including nine refineries accounting for 13 percent of U.S. production capacity, remained on strike on Wednesday.

“Industry responded to the information request and engaged in discussions into the evening,” the text message to United Steelworkers union (USW) members read. “Still miles apart. Bargaining continues tomorrow.”

Talks between the USW and lead oil company negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc had been on hold as the company drew up a response to an information request and a counterproposal from the union.

“Shell resumed negotiations with the USW on Wednesday and continues to work towards reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement,” spokesman Ray Fisher said.

On Monday, the union’s lead negotiator, International Vice President Gary Beevers, told Reuters that safe staffing levels at refineries and chemical plants remained a sticking point. The union also wants wage increases.

The USW has issued no new strike notices since Feb. 6, when workers at plants in Whiting, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, were told to walk off their jobs the next day.

On Wednesday, the USW sent a text message to members after an explosion at Exxon Mobil Corp’s 149,500 barrel per day Los Angeles-area refinery in Torrance, California.

The union said the blast, which injured four contract workers, showed the urgency of its goal to negotiate safer working conditions.

“As USW pushes life-saving safety improvements, explosion rocks Exxon Torrance,” the message read. “Some injuries, no fatalities. Safe refineries save lives.”

Exxon said four workers at the Torrance refinery were taken to hospital with injuries.

Lyondell Basell sent letters on Wednesday inviting more than 400 striking workers at its 263,776 bpd Houston refinery to cross picket lines and return to work under terms of the previous contract.

A USW spokeswoman said the company should focus on working with the union to improve safety.

“Our workers at that location are in solidarity with what we’re trying to achieve through the national pattern talks, which is health and safety,” said USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock.

Tesoro Corp’s 166,000-bpd plant in Martinez, California, was the only refinery to cease operations due to the strike. Part of it was already shut for maintenance and after the walkout started the rest was idled.

Tesoro officials have said production will not resume for the duration of the strike.

Shell has rescheduled from March until September a planned overhaul of a hydrocracking unit at its 327,000 barrels per day (bpd) joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, Texas, sources told Reuters on Monday.

The USW is seeking a three-year, industrywide pact that would cover 30,000 workers at 63 U.S. refineries that together account for two-thirds of domestic capacity.

Companies have called on temporary replacement workers to keep plants running at nearly normal levels.


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