Chevron refinery workers fight for more staffing, wages

By Andrea Morell
May 9, 2022

RICHMOND, Calif. — On strike since March 21, members of United Steelworkers Local 5, which represents over 500 production and maintenance workers, are picketing 24/7 at the Chevron oil refinery here and winning support. Strikers on the picket line April 24 told the Militant that they are determined to make gains in their key demands for more hiring to relieve dangerously long work schedules and for a bigger wage hike. They said negotiations are now taking place.

The bosses have let the maintenance workforce shrink through attrition over the last several years, striker Johnnie Grace told this Militant worker-correspondent the next day. The company brought in contractors to do some maintenance, she said, but “they don’t know anything about a refinery.” What’s happening in maintenance is reflective of the overall worsening conditions all workers there face, she added.

Retiree Ben Fields, a longtime Local 5 member who has worked at Chevron as well as at the Marathon refinery in Martinez, has been building solidarity with the strikers. The most important issue is “adequately staffing the operations and maintenance jobs,” he said. “The company is saving a lot of money by not hiring enough people, but that’s destroying home life for many workers who get forced to work overtime.”

Many operators at the refinery are forced to work 60 to 70 hours a week. “This is a safety issue!” he said. “Overtime can be a killer, especially when you have to commute from some distance. Chevron is taking away workers’ ability to be at their best when working these dangerous jobs. They are making it very difficult or impossible to responsibly raise a family and enjoy other interests.”

The company has shown disdain for the workers. After the unionists twice voted down inadequate company offers, the bosses brought in replacement workers and bused the Local 5 members out of the refinery hours before the strike began.

The Steelworkers union negotiated a national pattern agreement with Chevron in February, including wage gains. The strike here is over “local issues,” including fighting for an additional 5% “pay bump” at this refinery, due to the extraordinarily high living expenses in the Bay Area.

Chevron’s Richmond refinery is one of the biggest in the state, with over 13% of California’s refining capacity. The company reported $15.6 billion in profits in 2021.

The union and the Contra Costa Labor Council have organized expanded picket lines to mobilize solidarity and strengthen the strike, including a rally April 7 that drew members of the Operating Engineers, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters and others.

Strikers welcome supporters to join their picket lines.

Joel Britton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for California governor and a former operator at Chevron’s El Segundo refinery, contributed to this article.