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Shell unveils plan to replace union workers 2 days before talks

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 14.48.37(Bloomberg) — Two days before contract negotiations are scheduled to resume between Royal Dutch Shell Plc and the United Steelworkers’ oil union, the company announced plans to run its second-largest U.S. refinery without union labor.

Shell will have trained and deployed enough “relief workers” by mid-summer to keep the 327,000-barrel-a-day Deer Park refinery in Texas running at full operations, The Hague, Netherlands-based company said late Monday on its website. USW members went on strike at the complex on Feb. 1 after their contract expired and talks broke down.

The announcement comes amid a national strike that’s now widened to 12 refineries accounting for almost 20 percent of the capacity in the U.S., including BP Plc’s facility in Whiting, Indiana. Shell is leading the negotiations with the 30,000-strong United Steelworkers on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.

Shell said on its website late Monday that the company had been preparing staff to replace union workers since the walkout began. After putting in place non-union Shell employees to run operations at the plant, “we turned our focus to bringing in and training additional staff,” the company said.

The United Steelworkers, which is trying to limit the number of contractors at plants, said in a text message on Friday that Shell will need to bargain a fair and safe contract or see the strike expand.

Ray Fisher, a spokesman for Shell, said in a statement on Friday that the company and the union will “continue efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.”


The walkout of U.S. oil workers is the first national action since 1980, when a stoppage lasted three months. In all, the USW represents workers at sites that together account for 64 percent of U.S. fuel output.

The USW last expanded the strike on Feb. 20 to include Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, the nation’s largest, along with its plants in Convent and Norco, Louisiana. Motiva is a joint venture venture between Shell and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

Workers were already on strike at: Shell’s Deer Park complex in Texas; Tesoro Corp.’s plants in Martinez and Carson, California, and Anacortes, Washington; Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Catlettsburg complex in Kentucky and Galveston Bay site in Texas; LyondellBasell Industries NV’s Houston plant; and BP Plc’s Whiting, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, refineries.

The union, which has rejected seven contract offers from Shell, says USW members should handle daily maintenance at plants. Shell has said the union’s “unreasonable” demands would take away hiring flexibility.

About 6,550 people have joined the strike, which also includes a Marathon cogeneration plant in Texas and two Shell chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana, USW statements show.


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