RICHMOND, Calif. — “Power in solidarity” read one of the signs carried by the more than 100 members of United Steelworkers Local 5 outside the main gate of the Chevron oil refinery here Jan. 27. The maintenance workers and process operators mobilized to press the union’s demand for a “significant” wage increase in the national oil bargaining negotiations with industry representative Marathon Petroleum. This is crucial to help workers meet the effects of rising prices.
And they were putting the company on notice that they’re ready to strike over working conditions and other local issues at Chevron, issues that are negotiated refinery by refinery after wages and other industrywide issues are settled.
On Jan. 31 the union rejected the company’s latest proposal — a 3% wage raise for each of next three years — and offered to keep working as long as further negotiations are fruitful.
“The corporations are making profits galore,” BK White told the Militant. White, an operator for 28 years and Local 5 vice president, highlighted how Chevron has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to cut back on preventative maintenance. “The public will pay for these decisions,” pointing to the history of serious fires and explosions at the refinery.
Short staffing and lots of forced overtime, increasing burden of the costs of medical care, tightened disciplinary measures, and the soaring cost of living were among the issues the unionists discussed on the picket line with worker-correspondents for the Militant.
On Jan. 28 Steelworkers union negotiators rejected Marathon’s offer of a pay hike of only 1.3% for each of three years of new agreements for the 30,000 refinery and chemical-plant workers represented by the union. The current contract, which expires at midnight Jan. 31, had included 3.5% wage increases for the first two years and 4% in the final year.
Marathon’s “wage proposals to date are paltry,” the union said in a public statement. “In light of their earnings and dividends to shareholders, they are offensive.”