Union workers strike work for second day at US refiners and chemical plants

Union workers struck work for the second day yesterday at nine US refineries and chemical plants as they sought a new national contract with oil companies covering labourers at 63 plants.

The walkouts came as the first in support of a nationwide pact since 1980 and targeted plants with a combined 10 per cent of US refining capacity. One of the plants, Tesoro Corp's 166,000-barrel-per-day Martinez, California, refinery, was being shut as it was in the midst of planned maintenance work.

The other refineries appeared set to continue normal operations as contingency plans were pressed into service, calling on trained managers as replacement workers. US gasoline and diesel fuel prices surged today over supply concerns, as also a pickup in crude.

Talks broke down against a backdrop of plunging crude prices, down nearly 60 per cent since June, which led oil companies to cut spending.

According to the United Steelworkers Union, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the lead industry negotiator, halted negotiations early Sunday following the rejection of a fifth proposal from the company. The company said it would like to restart talks.

Shell initiated a strike contingency plan at its joint venture refinery and chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas, to keep operating normally.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that the United Steelworkers Union called for about 3,800 workers to strike at 12:01 a.m. local time Sunday, when the current contract expired, at five refineries and plants in Texas, two in California and one each in Kentucky and Washington.

It came as the largest work stoppage since 1980, by the union, which represented refineries that produced nearly two-thirds of all US oil.

The strike action involves 30,000 union workers employed at 65 refineries and over 230 oil terminals, pipelines and petrochemical facilities in the US.

According to the union they were working under a rolling 24-hour contract extension.

Negotiations between the union and Shell Oil Company, which was playing the lead negotiator in the bargaining talks, got underway on 21 January. Shell representatives called off the talks after union's rejection of its offer.

"Shell refused to provide us with a counter-offer and left the bargaining table," said USW international president Leo Gerard in a statement. "We had no choice but to give notice of a work stoppage."

An email from Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said it is: "committed to resolving our differences with (the) USW at the negotiating table and hope to resume negotiations as early as possible."