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MARCUS HOOK, Pennsylvania - With shouts of "Union! Union! Union!" over 250 oil workers, friends, family and other unionists rallied outside the main gate of British Petroleum's (BP) Marcus Hook refinery on January 31, just hours before workers were escorted out of the refinery and picket lines set up. A cheer went up when union workers still in the plant raised a six-foot flag of a skull and crossbones from the top of one of the refinery's towers. The oil workers - members of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) Local 8-234, were protesting the sale of the refinery to Tosco Corp. and its union busting demands.
On Nov. 3, 1995, BP announced the sale of the Marcus Hook refinery along with terminals, pipelines, and northeast retail outlets to Tosco, one of the largest independent refining companies in the U.S. Tosco said it planned to downsize the current workforce of over 500 by up to 130 salaried and hourly workers, and would maintain workers based on work-related performance criteria without regard to seniority. This attack on seniority has been met with outrage by the union employees.
From the beginning Tosco has threatened to shut down the refinery unless the union accepted its demands. In early January BP began to shut down units of the refinery in preparation to turn it over.
Members of Local 8-234 have organized numerous plant-gate informational leaflet distributions, two other rallies, and meetings with other union locals. They attended local town council meetings to explain their situation. They also met with local politicians seeking their support in trying to force Tosco's CEO Thomas O'Malley to the bargaining table. But O'Malley has refused to bargain with the local union and dismissed all attempts to meet with the politicians.
Tosco blames the refinery closing on the workers' intransigence in their demands. The union membership voted down Tosco's proposals by 82 percent.
The Marcus Hook refinery is situated in a heavily industrialized and unionized area along the Delaware River. Unionists from many of the surrounding plants and schools attended the rally, including members of the United Steelworkers of America, United Electrical workers, Service Employees International Un-ion, and the Teachers Association.
"We decided to come down and support them because the same thing is happening to us," stated Michael Billups, an International Longshoreman Local 1291 member from Philadelphia.
"There's about 40 of us here from United Auto Workers Local 1069 at Boeing. We just got our contract and thought it was important to be here," explained a machinist from the Ridley Park, Boeing plant.
Teamsters from the Pennsylvania Conference brought their semi truck and blasted music from loud speakers. "I work a full-time job and got off this morning from midnight shift," explained the driver. "I take this truck everywhere. I've been to Detroit and the newspaper strike bringing them potatoes from Maine. We collected food for the miners when they were on strike and I drove there many times. I think it's important that we stand together, solidarity is all we've got."
Maori meatpackers end protest, plant reopens
BENNEYDALE, New Zealand - Members of the Tiroa Trust of the Rereahu tribe ended their protest against the closure of the King Country Lamb meat processing plant here January 16 after the plant was bought by a private syndicate. Up to 50 Maoris, many of them workers at the plant, had occupied the plant carpark for three weeks. The trust owns the land leased by the plant.
Maori meatpackers end protest, plant reopens
The plant reopened January 24 with around 30 workers reemployed to date, according to former union delegate Tui Barlow. Neither of the two previous union delegates have been rehired in the now nonunion plant.
The new owners have brought in job combinations, a new skill-based pay system for laborers and butchers, and plan to institute piece rates.
The plant is running with about 120 fewer workers than at its peak four months ago, according to the January 27 Waikato Times, with a number of workers obtaining jobs at another nearby nonunion beef plant, which plans to expand.
The company has agreed to reduce effluent released into oxidation ponds located on sacred land, which the protesters asked be relocated.
Kathy Mickells, a member of OCAW Local 8-901 at Sun Oil in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, and Felicity Coggan, a member of the Meat Workers Union in Auckland, New Zealand, contributed to this week's column.
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