RICHMOND, Calif. — After 10 weeks on strike, hundreds of workers at the Chevron refinery here voted May 27-28 to accept the latest company offer and return to work. The contract was similar to the one they rejected twice, before going on strike in March.
“Chevron has never bargained seriously on the big issues we’re raising,” Justin Gilmore, a striker with 15 years at the refinery, told this Militant worker-correspondent May 21. The demands of the strikers included ending dangerously inadequate staffing and the long hours of overtime that leave little time for family. They also called for an extra one-time wage increase of 5% to address the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the rising cost of health care. Many operators at the refinery work 60 to 70 hours a week.
“Chevron preaches we are family. But how they really see us is more like we’re robots,” Gilmore said. “They look at our wages not as something we need, but as a minus number from their profits.”
According to B.K. White, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 5, the contract passed by a slim majority.
On the last day of the vote no one on the picket line was defending the new contract. Those who voted yes told the Militant they did so because they didn’t think they could win more by staying out longer.
While refusing to meet the strikers’ demands, Chevron announced the highest quarterly earnings in almost a decade. The price of gasoline in California has been raised to a point where the oil companies are profiting by as much as 70 cents on a gallon, according to an article in the Mercury News.
The union reached a national pattern agreement with the oil industry Feb. 25. Workers at the Chevron refinery here were the only bargaining unit to strike over local issues.
Workers will get a 12% wage increase over four years set in the national pattern. In February, Chevron offered a one-time signing bonus of $2,500 to workers at the Richmond refinery. This was reduced to $1,500.
Chevron organized managers, engineers, contract workers and strikebreakers from their nonunion Mississippi refinery to operate the refinery during the strike. Over time dozens of the 500 workers at the plant crossed the picket line.
Boss strikebreaking threatens safety
Workers feared for safety when forced to turn over the refinery units to strikebreakers unfamiliar with them. According to the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Programs, there were nine flaring incidents at the refinery during the strike, a sign of malfunctions. Such flaring often involves releases of toxic chemicals.
Several expanded picket lines were organized during the strike, where members of Bay Area unions, including grocery workers, machinists, teachers and others rallied in solidarity.
“We have solid members who held the line,” striker Colt McKonvile told the Militant. “Now we have to go in and keep building the union.”