Striking miners remain resilient and strong

After six months on strike, 250 miners at the Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan, Idaho remain determined to continue their fight for a fair contract that protects hard-won union pay, benefits, and safety measures.

In addition to maintaining a strong picket line for more than six months, the strikers, members of United Steelworkers Local 5114, have carried out an effective corporate campaign aimed putting their employer Hecla Mining on the defensive.

In addition to the Lucky Friday silver mine in Idaho, Hecla owns mines in Mexico, Canada, and Alaska that mine silver, gold, lead, and zinc.

The strikers next action against corporate greed will take them to Hecla headquarters in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho where on October 31 they’ll hold a solidarity rally.

After more than a year of bargaining, the strike began in March when the company tried to implement the terms of its last, best, and final contract offer made in February and rejected by Local 5114 members by a vote of 244-2.

Among other things, the company’s wants to cut pay, increase miners’ health care cost, eviscerate the seniority system, and make changes that miners fear will compromise safety.

The company’s offer also reduces the length of recall rights from three years to 90 days. Recall rights are important because, they protect workers’ jobs in event of layoffs or when the mine shuts down for long periods of repair and maintenance.

Hecla apparently thought that it could force a strike at one of its mines and carry on with business as usual, but that proved not to be the case.

Hecla’s silver production is a fraction of what it once was, and the business press is starting to take notice.

The Motley Fool reported that because of the strike, Hecla silver production during the first six months of 2017 was 850,000 ounces less than it was in the first six months of 2016 causing a steep drop in profits.

The strike at Lucky Friday “played a pretty big role in the (poor) financial performance Hecla Mining turned in during the second quarter of 2017,” reports The Motley Fool, which also observes that the strike has been “costly” to investors.

Seeking Alpha also reports that the strike has caused Hecla profits to fall.

For the company’s second quarter, the reporting period between April 2017 and June 2017, Hecla lost $24.2 million, a significant drop compared to the second quarter of 2016 when the company reported a profit of $24 million.

The outlook forward doesn’t appear to be much better.

Recently, the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review reported that with Hecla supervisory personnel working the mine, Lucky Friday silver production between July 2017 and September 2017 is 90 percent below its production for the same time period in 2016.

The strike has been hard on the workers, but they been strong and resilient. None of the union members have returned to work, and whenever they have had an opportunity, they’ve taken the fight to corporate management.

In August, Steelworkers including two Lucky Friday miners confronted Hecla executives in New York City during a meeting with investors.

They “stormed in during Hecla’s presentation chanting, ‘Hecla, Hecla you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.”

They also met with some investors at that meeting to describe the impact that the strike was having on the company.

In September, members of Local 5114 attended the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum induction banquet where they passed out information about the strike.

The strikers accused Phillip Baker, the CEO of Hecla, of trying “to starve our families into accepting a contract that lowers pay, undermines job security, and gives management unchallenged authority to decide who works and when and where they’re assigned regardless of seniority or health and safety concerns.”

Baker, who was paid $6.4 million in 2016, a 36 percent raise over 2015, was also present at the banquet.

When he learned that Local 5114 members were at the banquet, he “lost his cool” and demanded that the workers be removed from the banquet.

The striking miners have received support from their communities where they live and from union members outside the community.

In September, a group of young workers and retirees from International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals in the Pacific Northwest traveled to Mullan to help the miners picket.

Since the strike began ILWU locals have contributed  $15,500 to Local 5114’s strike fund.

With help from United Steelworkers international office, Local 5114 has paid out $994,000 in assistance to strikers and their families.

Those wishing to donate money to support the strike can send checks to USW 5114, PO Box 427, Mullan, ID 83846.

During all this activity, the union’s bargaining team has been meeting with company negotiators.

They met for three days earlier in October and reported that some progress has been made, but more work needs to be done.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled for October 25, 26, and 27.

Advertisements

USW asks US government to impose a temporary tariff on imported aluminum

The United Steelworkers (USW) on April 18 petitioned the US government to impose temporary tariffs on imported aluminum.

According to the USW, low-priced imported unwrought aluminum, the aluminum made at smelters and used in a variety of manufactured goods, has cost the US 6500 decent paying manufacturing jobs and threatens the very existence of a key domestic industry.

“Aluminum is vital to our national and economic security, and this (petition) will help us retain and begin to rebuild domestic production of primary unwrought aluminum, which has reached critically low levels as a result of flooding imports,” said Leo Gerard, USW president. “By the end of June, the industry will be operating at only 25 percent of 2011 production levels, and the total number of laid off workers will reach 6,500.”

The union’s petition asks the US government’s International Trade Commission to find that cheap imports have seriously harmed the domestic aluminum industry and asks for a four-year tariff on imported aluminum produced from raw materials and not from recycled materials.

The commission is required to make a decision within 60 days. If the commission sides with the union, the President has 30 days to decide whether to implement a tariff or provide some other relief.

The union is proposing that a tariff of 50 percent be imposed for the first year. The rate drops to 45 percent in the second year, 40 percent in the third year, and 35 percent in the fourth year.

According to USW, cheap aluminum imports are the result of overproduction in China, which has caused a glut of aluminum in the global market.

If after four years, the glut subsides and prices stabilize at sustainable levels, the tariff would be lifted.

“The USW’s trade (petition) is intended to provide needed relief,” said Tom Conway, USW International Vice President. “We are requesting four years of increased tariffs, with the tariffs capped at a price allowing domestic producers to effectively operate and, hopefully, restore production.”

Since 2011, the market share of domestically produced aluminum has declined by 19.44 percent; meanwhile, the market share of imported aluminum has increased by 19.66 percent, nearly a 40 point spread.

Canada is the main exporter of aluminum to the US, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Qatar, and Argentina.

The influx of cheap imported aluminum has left the domestic aluminum producers reeling.

“In states all across the country, America’s aluminum producers have (been) closed, idled, or are at risk,” said Gerard. “Over just five years, we’ve seen the number of smelters plummet. In 2011 there were 14 smelters in the United States. Today there are only eight, of which only five are currently operating and one is expected to be idled at the end of June. Two of the five now operating are at 50 percent or less of capacity.”

The union’s petition also asks that the US government negotiate with China to reach an agreement on how to end its overproduction of aluminum. The aim of such an agreement would be to restore aluminum prices to sustainable levels.

“It is critical that the supply-demand imbalance be addressed quickly and effectively by the Obama administration,” said the USW’s press release on its petition. “China and the United States have been discussing China’s excess capacity as part of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) process, and China has internally recognized it has massive excess capacity in primary unwrought aluminum. What is needed is an actual correction of the imbalance and temporary relief for domestic producers until that is achieved.”

ATI’s illegal lockout ends after union members ratify new contract

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) at 12 Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) plants in six states ratified by a five to one margin a new collective bargaining agreement.

The ratification vote ends a six-month lockout that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said was illegal.

The workers will return to work on March 13.

The NLRB on February 12 issued a complaint charging ATI with illegally locking out its 2200 union workers.

Ten days after the NLRB ruling, the company and USW reached a tentative agreement that members ratified on March 1.

“(The agreement) doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a victory for the union considering what the company wanted to do to us,” said Walt Hill, a USW Local 1196 member and the union’s contract coordinator to the Pittsburgh Tribune.

When bargaining began last spring, ATI, one of the world’s leading producers of specialty steel and other metal products, proposed a list of 145 concessions that USW said would “cost workers thousands of dollars a year and erode decades of collective bargaining gains.”

After months of bargaining, the union pared down the list of concessions, but on August 6, ATI presented its last, best, and final offer to USW negotiators and issued an ultimatum: Present the offer to your members by August 10 and recommend ratification.

The company’s offer still contained a long list of concessions including a two-tiered wage system that would lower wages for new workers, new, much higher health care costs, the removal of restrictions on outsourcing work, changes to the grievance procedure, and the elimination of retiree health care.

As a result, the union refused the company’s ultimatum.

On August 15, the company locked out its workers. The lockout affected ATI plants in Western Pennsylvania; Albany, Oregon; Lockport, New York; Louisville, Ohio; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Waterbury, Connecticut.

Evidence suggests that ATI had been planning the lockout for some time. Before the lockout began, the company began hiring replacement workers and extra security guards.

After being locked out, ATI’s workers took up their positions on picket lines outside of the company’s factories and stayed there even as winter set in and temperatures fell below freezing.

Meanwhile, USW filed unfair labor practices charges against ATI.

In December, the NLRB informed the union that it would file an unfair labor practices complaint against ATI for initiating an illegal lockout and for bad faith bargaining before and during the lockout.

“In all my years as a negotiator, I have never seen a company engage in such obvious bad-faith bargaining,” said USW’s lead negotiator International Vice President Tom Conway after the NLRB informed the union of its intentions.

Nearly two months later, the board filed its complaint and scheduled a May hearing with an administrative judge.

Had the complaint been heard and had the judge concurred that ATI’s lockout was illegal, the company would have had to compensate workers for their lost wages, benefits, and other losses resulting from the lockout.

After workers ratified the agreement, the NLRB dropped its complaint against ATI.

When bargaining on the new agreement began, the union was facing some difficult circumstances.

The decline in oil prices and the subsequent cutbacks in oil exploration had weakened the demand for products that ATI sold to the oil and gas industry, its second biggest customer.

Sales to the industry had declined by 34 percent.

Furthermore, worldwide overproduction and a resulting glut, reduced demand for its flat-rolled metal products by 60 percent.

As a result, the company’s net income for the past two years has been negative.

Entering negotiations, ATI was looking to reduce labor costs and used the temporary lack of demand for it products as an excuse.

While the company was telling workers that business was bad and they needed to accept concessions, it was telling a different story to investors.

According to the company’s 2014 annual report, the company’s future was bright, a quick turnaround was on the horizon, and the company would be profitable again soon, perhaps as  early as 2016.

The collective bargaining agreement that the two sides finally negotiated does provide ATI with some opportunities for lowering its labor costs.

ATI will be able to reduce its pension liabilities because new hires will no longer be eligible for the union workers’ defined benefit pension, and the workers’ health insurance plan will  no longer pay 100 percent of health care expenses after deductibles are paid.

The new health insurance plan covers 90 percent of the costs and workers will pay the rest until reaching the maximum for out-of-pocket expenses–$15oo for individuals and $3000 for families.

But workers will now be eligible for quarterly profit-sharing bonuses, a feature that the union was able to restore after the company succeeded in eliminating them in a previous collective bargaining agreement.

Workers will also receive a $1 an hour increase in their base pay, and the company will pay another $0.50 an hour to the Voluntary Employee Benefits Account that funds the retiree health care benefit.

The company will pay a modest signing bonus and agreed to contract language saying that it will not eliminate jobs by outsourcing them.

Western Pennsylvania ATI workers interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune said that the final agreement was better than they expected.

“Overall, it’s not a bad contract,” said Kirby DeCroo to the Tribune. “It’s (better) than what they were trying to jam down our throats.”

Asarco/Grupo Mexico must pay bonus to new hires; NLRB files complaints against the company

A federal district judge has ruled that Asarco and its owner, Grupo Mexico, must pay bonuses negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement to hundreds of workers covered by the agreement who did not receive the bonus.

According to the United Steelworkers (USW), the amount owed to the unpaid workers could be as much as $10 million.

Asarco/Grupo Mexico operates five copper mines and refineries in Arizona and Texas where it employs 2000 production and maintenance workers.

In 2011, Asarco/Grupo Mexico and its workers’ unions agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that required the company to pay quarterly bonuses based on the price of copper to workers covered by the agreement.

Four months after the agreement went into effect, Asarco/Grupo Mexico announced that it would not pay the copper price bonus to new hires.

After the announcement, USW, the largest of eight unions that represent Asarco/Grupo Mexico workers, filed a grievance.

The grievance was heard by an arbitrator who ruled in 2014 that the new hires must be paid the copper price bonus.

US District Judge Stephen McNamee on March 4 upheld the arbitrator’s ruling.

The judge’s decision is Asarco’s/Grupo Mexico’s ‘s latest setback in its attempt to implement new, cost-cutting labor policies without consulting or bargaining with its workers’ unions.

Before Judge McNamee ruled in favor of the unions in the quarterly copper bonus dispute, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional office in January filed a fourth consolidated unfair labor practices complaint against Asarco/Grupo Mexico.

The latest NLRB complaint stems from a two-and-a-half year battle between the company and its unions over a new collective bargaining agreement.

In 2013, USW and seven other unions began bargaining with Asarco/Grupo Mexico on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The company demanded steep concessions, but the unions resisted.

When the agreement expired, the unions agreed to continue working under the terms of the expired agreement while negotiations continued.

After two years of tough bargaining, the unions informed Asarco in June 2015 that they were terminating the expired agreement but continued working as negotiations progressed.

While negotiations were in progress, the unions charged the company with unfair labor practices.

The NLRB agreed and filed complaints against Asarco/Grupo Mexico for failing and refusing to bargain with its unions and other unfair labor practices.

In October 2015 as negotiations were still in progress, Asarco/Grupo Mexico announced that beginning December 1, it would implement its last, best and final contract offer.

When December 1 came, the company implemented some of its last, best and final offer.

Among other things, the company changed it scheduling. which extend the time that workers must stay on the job, cut overtime pay by revising its method for calculating overtime, eliminated health care coverage for future retirees, and increased health care cost for workers.

It also changed the formula for calculating the copper price bonus. As a result, workers won’t be receiving the bonus as long as the price of copper remains at or below its current level.

The NLRB’s latest complaint filed in January charges Asarco/Grupo Mexico with illegally implementing its final, best, and last offer.

Since Grupo Mexico purchased Asarco in 1998, it has had a contentious relationship with its unions that in addition the USW, include the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the International Association of Machinists, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and United Association, which represents plumbers, fitters, welders, and service technicians.

In 2005, union workers struck the company. During the strike, Asarco/Grupo Mexico declared bankruptcy. In addition to voiding the collective bargaining agreement with its workers, the bankruptcy filing helped the company avoid billions of dollars in liabilities for polluting the environment.

The unions in 2007 managed to secure a new collective bargaining agreement that included pay raises and quarterly bonuses tied to the price of copper.

The company remained in bankruptcy, however, until 2009 when higher copper prices attracted new financial backers, who pumped billions of dollars of new financing into the company.

High copper prices allowed for a brief period of labor peace, but in 2011, the price of copper began to fall and has continued to do so since.

As copper prices have dropped, Asarco/Grupo Mexico has attempted to shift the risk of lower copper prices from its investors to its workers by cutting labor costs.

Its first step was to deny the copper price bonus to new hires. Next in 2013 it sought steep concessions from its workers in the new collective bargaining agreement. Finally, it decided to implement its final, best, and last offer.

On March 15, an administrative judge will hold hearings on the NLRB’s unfair labor practices complaints that Asarco/Grupo Mexico has accumulated in its efforts to shift its costs of doing business onto the backs of its workers.

USW, Big Steel face off

Members of the United Steelworkers (USW) on September 1 staged solidarity rallies in six states in response to Big Steel’s threats to undermine the future of steelworkers, their families, and their communities.

Thanks to 75 years of union struggles, work in the nation’s steel mills can provide a decent living. The benefits of these good jobs spill over into the communities where union members live.

But the nation’s two biggest steel companies, US Steel and Arcelor Mittal, are taking a hard line as the union and the two companies negotiate new collective bargaining agreements. The companies want the workers to agree to major concessions.

Union contracts have expired at both companies, but steelworkers continue to work while bargaining continues.

Another company, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI), one of the largest producers of specialty steel and other specialty metal products, has gone one step further by locking out its 2,200 union workers at eleven plants in six states.

The lockout began on August 15 after ATI workers refused to accept concession demands from the company that included take-home pay cuts, benefit cuts, more outsourcing, and more forced overtime.

On top of that, ATI wants to deprive future steelworkers of hard-won gains that steelworker solidarity has achieved.

If ATI, which reported $4.2 billion in revenue for 2014, succeeds in imposing its concession demands, it’s hard to imagine that US Steel and Arcelor Mittal wouldn’t want to do the same.

“This is a fight not just for active steelworkers or retirees,” said Dave McCall, USW District 1 director at the September 1 rally in Pittsburg. “It’s a fight for the future.”

To emphasize his point that the future of the next generation of steelworkers is at stake, McCall paused before concluding his statement then as he spoke, held up the young daughter of a nearby union member for all to see.

Among other things, ATI wants union members to accept higher health care costs, no pay raises, the company’s complete control over scheduling and overtime, and an end to bonus payments. (The bonus payments would be replaced by a one-time $1 an hour raise that wouldn’t apply to new hires.)

The company also wants the authority to implement further health care cuts in order to avoid paying the Affordable Care Act excise tax.

Additionally, ATI wants to end its defined benefit pension and its health insurance plan for new hires.

The pension would be replaced by a 401(k) savings plan and the health care insurance would be replaced by a health savings account plan, which among other things requires beneficiaries to pay excessively high deductibles.

New hires also won’t be eligible for the lump sum payments that the company is offering in lieu of a pay raise.

In addition to locking out its union workers, ATI has hired replacement workers to keep its plants from shutting down during the lockout.

ATI, US Steel, and Arcelor Mittal are using a temporary downturn in steel prices as an excuse to demand long-term concessions from their workers.

Like other commodities, the price of steel and other metals produced by these companies fluctuates.

Currently, steel prices are down because of world-wide over production, which has caused a glut on the market.

This glut is primarily due to the economic downturn in China, which has reduced internal demand for steel and other metals in that country and caused China to sell its excess steel on the global market.

Another factor is the drop in oil prices, which has lowered the industry’s demand for steel used in drilling and exploration.

But the current glut won’t persist. According to CAPX, a publication of the Center for Policy Studies, a Thatcherite policy and research center in the UK,

In the long term, commodity prices will recover. The majority of the world’s population lives in countries which have not industrialized, and it won’t be long until they do. Hundreds of megacities around the world are taking shape, and all of these will be hungry for steel, copper and oil.

When the price of steel rises, ATI and the other steel companies will be making big profits again, but if they succeed in forcing their workers to accept their concessions, their workers won’t share in the company’s prosperity.

It won’t just be the workers who suffer. The communities where the workers live and spend their money will also suffer.

One of these communities is Brackenridge, Pennsylvania where one of the ATI plants is located.

Brackenridge has already begun to feel the effects of the lockout.

One Brackenridge business owner Matt Struhar, who runs Maddio’s Pizza and Subs, saw his business drop off by 40 percent after the lockout began.

He posted a Facebook message urging others in the community to support the locked out workers.

The message of support generated a strong outpouring of support for Struhar’s business especially from union members.

To show appreciation for Struhar and his message, one group of union workers drove all the way from Indiana to buy food at Struhar’s restaurant.

The response he received confirmed to Sturhar that supporting the locked out workers was the right thing to do.

“It’s shown me that we really are in this together,” said Struhar in an email message. “We really are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I hope ATI realizes this and ends this unfair lockout soon so we can all get back to work for our community’s sake, and for every community in America that’s depending on good, union jobs.

Workers to shareholders: Sherwin Alumina lockout is bad for business

Locked out union members at the Sherwin Alumina refinery near Corpus Christi, Texas traveled to Switzerland to tell shareholders of the company that owns Sherwin that the seven-month lockout is hurting the company’s bottom line and that action needs to be taken to end the lockout.

The locked out workers, who belong to United Steelworkers Local 235A, were part of an international labor delegation, who were on hand when Glencore, Sherwin’s owner, held its annual stockholders meeting in Zug, Switzerland on May 7.

The labor delegation, consisting of union members from, Australia, Colombia, South Africa, and the US, passed out flyers to shareholders entering the meeting.

Locked out Sherwin Alumina workers also went into the auditorium where the meeting was being held to explain the impact that the lockout was having on Glencore, an international mining, manufacturing, and trading corporations that ranks tenth among the Fortune 500’s largest global corporations.

“The loss of production (at Sherwin caused by the lockout) has cost the company over $40 million in lost revenue,” said Rey Herrera, vice president of Local 235A, to the shareholders.

The action in Switzerland on behalf of the locked out Sherwin Alumina workers was part of a campaign to make shareholders aware of abuses committed by Glencore and the company’s like Sherwin Alumina that Glencore owns.

According to a media release by IndustriAll, an international labor federation that organized the shareholder demonstration in Switzerland, “Trade union issues dominated the meeting, and it was impossible for (Glencore) to continue sweeping them under the carpet. Some shareholders, unaware of the violations. left the meeting outraged.”

“Even the CEO (of Glencore) considered that there are legitimate issues being raised and committed to go back and talk to people on the ground. One way or another these issue have to be resolved,” said Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director of mining.

In addition to the ill-conceived Sherwin lockout, Glencore and its subsidiaries were accused of destroying the environment of indigenous people in Colombia and brutalizing union members at its Colombian coal mines; replacing union coal miners with low-wage temporary workers in Australia; and eliminating more than 1,500 jobs at a South African coal mine after promising in 2013 when Glencore bought the mine that it would not lay off workers.

“Glencore claims to respect communities, collective bargaining, and the right of employees to freely choose a union, but IndustriAll has testimonies from affiliates, in over 14 countries of the consistent brutality and disrespect of workers rights throughout it’s operations,” said Mpufane.

Glencore’s lack of respect for collective bargaining looms large in the Sherwin Alumina lockout.

Sherwin, which refines bauxite into alumina, the main ingredient in the production of aluminum, was a profitable company in 2014 when its collective bargaining agreement with Local 235A came up for renewal.

Despite its profitability, Sherwin pressed hard for concessions including a change to overtime rules that would result in a big pay cut, much higher health care costs for workers, a pension freeze, and the elimination of promised health care benefits for retirees.

Union members rejected these concessions but agreed to continue bargaining in order to resolve the outstanding issues.

Sherwin management, however, called off the negotiations and ordered a lockout.

Seven months into the lockout, union members have said that they are willing to return to the bargaining table, but Sherwin continues to shun the collective bargaining process.

“Over the past seven months, we have repeatedly offered to return to work while we continue to bargain a new contract that is fair to both the company and its workers,” said Herrera.”We have always been ready, willing and able to continue to work. The company has refused these offers and continues to keep us out of work.”

After meeting with Glencore officials in Switzerland, Herrera said that there were some hopeful signs, but he also expressed skepticism about the company’s intentions.

“They claimed they would make an effort to talk to us, but what they say and what they do are two different things,” said Herrera.

Strike for safety at US oil refineries expands

Workers at two BP work sites in Indiana and Ohio have  joined the national oil workers strike, the first nationwide strike against Big Oil since 1980.

Members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-1 at The BP  refinery in Whiting, Indiana and members of USW Local 346-3 at the BP plant in Toledo, Ohio walked off the job 24 hours after the USW issued a strike notice to BP, the world’s sixth largest oil company.

The USW members in Indiana and Ohio joined 3,650 other USW members on strike at nine other Big Oil work sites in Texas, California, Kentucky, and Washington. USW represents members at 65 oil refineries and related facilities in the US.

The strike began on February 1 after negotiations on a new national oil bargaining agreement failed to produce what the union calls a fair agreement–one that includes enforceable contract language that improves safety at the nation’s oil refineries.

“We are absolutely committed to negotiating a fair contract that improves safety conditions throughout the industry,” said Leo Gerard, USW international president. “Management cannot continue to resist allowing workers a stronger voice on issues that could very well make the difference between life and death for too many of them.”

“Our workers need enforceable contract language on their issues that holds the industry accountable,” added Tom Conway,  USW international vice president of administration.

USW has been bargaining with Shell, which is representing Big Oil in the national bargaining agreement negotiations. The agreement negotiated with Shell will set the pattern for a national agreement. The current national agreement expired on January 31.

Shell made its sixth offer to the union on February 5 and for the sixth time USW negotiators rejected the company’s offer.

Gary Beevers, USW international vice president, who has been leading the union negotiating team, said that Shell isn’t taking union members’ concerns seriously.

“Little progress has been made on our members’ central issues concerning health and safety, fatigue, inadequate staffing levels that differ from what is shown on paper, contracting out of daily maintenance jobs, high out-of-pocket and health care costs,” said Beevers. “In addition, Shell has failed to accept the ‘no-retrogression’ language that refers to acceptance of previous agreements with the industry.”

“We will not relinquish 50 years of progress in (National Oil Bargaining Program) bargaining,” he added.

Oil refining is dangerous work and what happens at refineries affects both workers and nearby residents.

For example, in 2005 an explosion at a Texas City, Texas refinery, which at the time was owned by BP, killed 15 workers, injured 170 more, and caused noxious smoke to be released into the atmosphere. Residents at the time were instructed by local authorities to stay indoors and close and seal windows.

Subsequent investigations blamed the explosion on company cost cutting measures.

Despite the dangers, oil companies continue to look for ways to cut cost even though doing so may make the refineries less safe.

One way that they are cutting costs, according to the union, is by under staffing their refineries.

Under staffing results in companies scheduling excessive overtime to maintain production.

Some workers welcome the extra overtime because they need the money to meet expenses, but too much work causes fatigue, and according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), “Fatigue is an unsafe condition in the workplace.”

ACOEM says that fatigue caused by long work hours can be mitigated by adequate rest periods, but adequate rest is hard to come by in most oil refineries.

Production workers generally work 12-hour shifts, sometimes three days a week and sometimes four days a week.

Long breaks between long shifts are supposed to refresh workers and keep them alert, but because of short staffing, oil workers are often called in on their days off.

In other instances, they work more than 12 hour days to keep production flowing.

Workers also rotate between day and night shifts, which, studies have shown increases fatigue by interrupting sleep patterns.

When oil workers signed on to work in refineries, they knew that dangerous work and long hours were part of the job, but according to Conway those conditions are getting out of hand.

“We have people who are working twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen continuous days without a day off on 12 hour shifts,” said Conway. “And people are stressed with an amazing amount of overtime and fatigue and sleep deprivation. It’s dangerous. It’s a dangerous way to run an operation like a fuel refinery.”

What oil workers are asking for in the new collective bargaining agreement is input into how their work is structured, so that fatigue can be reduced and their workplace can be made safer. They also want, safer staffing levels, more of a voice when it comes to safety decisions on the job, and less outsourcing of work to inexperienced contractors.

So far, the oil companies in general and Shell in particular have been unwilling to give the workers the voice they want to make their jobs safe.