A nearly three week-old strike of over 500 refinery workers at the Chevron Richmond refinery in the Bay area agreed to meet to discuss an end of the strike on Friday following two weeks of no talks and gas prices remaining high across the state.
Refinery workers belonging to the United Steelworkers (USW) union went on strike March 21st. While the majority of U.S. refineries and the USW came to an agreement in late February of a 12% raise in pay over 4 years, some local unions needed advanced individual negotiations pertaining to specific refineries and plants. In Richmond, USW Local 5 had two additional demands in addition to the national policy changes. Instead of just a 12% increase, union reps in Richmond pushed for a 17% increase with the high cost of living in the Bay area, as well as a reduction of work hours of the 60-70 hour weeks some sometimes work, with additional staffing offered up as a way to make it happen.
Both sides negotiated into March, with the USW members twice voting down the updated Chevron offers which were not made public. Chevron maintains that the offers went above and beyond the national contracts, but that the USW was unwilling to budge from their position. The USW had to resort to rolling 24-hour contracts for weeks while negotiations continued. By March 20th, a strike became apparent, with replacement workers quickly filling in for USW workers leaving to picket. On March 21st, the strike officially started.
While talks to solve the strike fizzled out in the first week, the striking workers were dealt a blow when a threat of a similar strike at the Chevron El Segundo refinery outside of LA ended with a last minute agreement, ensuring that a steady supply of gasoline, aviation fuel, and other oil-based fuels would continue to be pumped out amid rising gas prices.
Since the strike started, the Richmond refinery has also kept up production, which amounts to 20% of the gasoline and 60% of the jet fuel used in Northern California, with replacement workers. Outside of a few malfunctions happening in late March and early April, the transition between union and replacement workers has gone by without a hitch.
According to USW local 12-5 Vice President B.K. White and Chevron spokesman Tyler Kruzich, both sides have been having informal talks of resolving the strike in recent days, which led directly to the announcement on Friday that formal talks would resume on Monday.
“We look forward to continuing formal discussions,” noted Kruzich.
Many experts noted with gas prices starting to go down in California and replacement refinery workers not causing any large delays, union workers may be trying to reach a more favorable deal now while they still have some price leverage.
“Gas prices are still high, but with the price starting to trickle down now, they have their thumb right on the chicken switch,” said Darren Morgan, a former negotiator researcher who worked on several prominent union negotiations in the past several decades, to the Globe on Friday. “The longer a strike goes on, the more likely arises a complication that hurts a union. You may have union members crossing the line back to work out of desperation, a growing apathetic public, or even factors like inclement weather pushing picketers out of the view of the media and public. Here, its gas prices looking to be on a more downward projected trend and the replacement workers actually doing a good job that have drawn things out. Circumstances are changing. That’s why everyone is going back to the table.”
Negotiations are set to continue Monday between Chevron and the USW.
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