RICHMOND, Calif. — Several dozen workers and their families joined striking refinery workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 5, at a picket line rally outside the Chevron refinery here April 7. The expanded picketing was part of ongoing efforts by the strikers to broaden support for their fight for a contract with higher pay, better safety protections and badly needed increased staffing. Over 500 workers staff the refinery.
Union members came from the Operating Engineers, UNITE HERE, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers and others. Many brought their children.
Strikers say workers get fatigued by constant overtime, often working 50 to 60 hours a week. They’re demanding the bosses hire more workers and pay higher than the national contract rate, given the high cost of living in the Bay Area.
One senior operator wore a hand-made T-shirt saying, “Run like hell is not a contingency plan,” pointing to bosses’ lack of concern for the safety of workers and people who live near the refinery. In 2012 a 40-year-old pipe ruptured, having worn away to the point where it was paper thin, leading to a huge fire and cloud of toxic smoke over the plant and neighboring communities, sending hundreds to the hospital.
Workers had warned management about the deteriorating condition of the pipe many times, but nothing was done. Chevron faced action by Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the state attorney general’s office and a lawsuit by the city of Richmond. The company pleaded no contest to six misdemeanors and was fined $1.28 million and had to pay $575,000 in fees.
Workers on the picket line say it’s only the operators and maintenance workers who stand up for plant safety, while management defers maintenance.
Strikers also fault the company for not organizing a safe shutdown of the facility before the strike. Now that there are scab operators inside, there have been several flaring incidents since the strike began.
Chevron is recruiting scabs online, telling them they can look forward to $70 an hour for up to five months work, Reuters reported April 11. Refinery workers average $45 an hour.
“They are throwing money at scabs trying to break our union,” B.K. White, USW Local 5 first vice president, told the press.
Picket lines are up 24/7. “We need fewer hours, more work and family balance,” striker Jason Rohrbach said April 14 on the picket line. “We’re staying out until we see motion by management on the issues.”