Following an entire week of resumed negotiations between Chevron and the United Steelworkers (USW) union over the strike at the Chevron Richmond refinery in the Bay area last week, officials from both sides announced on Monday that both sides had rejected each others proposals and that the strike will continue on.
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 there sometimes work and more workers hired to help alleviate long hours issues.
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 petered 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.
More proposal rejections
Talks shut down for two weeks in late March and early April, with both sides getting back to negotiations on April 11th. Both sides put proposals out, with Chevron giving an ultimatum last Tuesday for the USW to respond by Monday or else the strike would continue. While details of both proposals were not released, the Chevron deal is known to have not met union demands, as they rejected it. With both sides being unable to come to a new agreement, talks have fizzled out once again, with no further meetings set for at least another week as of Tuesday.
“The proposals were exchanged last week,” said USW Local 12-5 Vice President B.K. White on Monday. “No meetings are planned in the coming week.”
With the strike becoming a month old this week, Chevron has also begun thinking more longer term. Since the strike started, the Richmond refinery has kept up production, which amounts to 20% of the gasoline and 60% of the jet fuel used in Northern California, with replacement workers as well as managers and supervisors who did not go on strike. Despite the current team there working out with the exception of a few early malfunctions, Chevron has been continuing to scour for more replacement workers, signaling that the strike may go on for a longer time than anticipated.
“It’s not that big of a surprise,” noted Darren Morgan, a former negotiator researcher who worked on several prominent union negotiations in the past several decades, to the Globe on Tuesday. “It’s a lot to want and a lot to give. Workers could really use the extra money because of Bay area prices as well as working way past the standard 40 hour work week. Chevron, meanwhile, has seen everywhere else in California, including the pricey LA area, agree to new contracts that were not as exuberant.
“And now with the USW rejecting yet another offer and Chevron now hiring more replacement staff, both sides are digging in even more. In a situation like this, both sides usually need to give a little. But both sides also don’t want to give up that much. Chevron still wants to make a profit at that refinery and the workers want to be able to live comfortably. But they’re dragging it out more and more. The first to speak is usually seen as the weaker one during negotiations, so you can imagine how both sides are playing this right now.”
No new negotiations in the strike are expected for at least a week.
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