, Port Arthur, Texas

February 2, 2012

Reaching agreement best for oil workers, companies

The Port Arthur News

— The sabers were rattled and the strike plans were laid, but in the end oil workers and Shell Oil Co., the lead company in this year’s bargaining, did the only reasonable thing and came to a tentative agreement. The next step is for union members, including 3,000 United Steel Workers members in the Golden Triangle, to vote on the contract proposal.

Terms of the new pact have not been made public but some published reports indicate a 2 percent raise in the first year and a 2.5 percent increase in the second year. With that the union members would basically stay even with inflation.

One of the points of emphasis in the contract negotiations for the union related to safety in the refineries. Many of the refinery workers here are familiar with the explosion at the Texas City BP refinery in 2005 that resulted in the deaths of 15 workers.

According to the USW, 18 oil workers died on the job in the past three years. In the contract negotiations, the union asked for the right to stop unsafe work, to have safe staffing levels at refineries and for union safety representatives who would work with the companies to find and reduce hazards. How those points were hammered out in negotiations has not been released by either the union or the company, but they seem to be common sense ways to continue the ongoing conversation about safety in refineries.

It’s been many years since the oil workers union and the oil companies in Port Arthur haven’t been able to come to a contract agreement. Strikes are a powerful tool organized labor has used to improve working conditions and worker pay, but many of the strikes in our past have been devastating to families and the local economy. They gave this area a reputation for labor strife that was difficult to overcome. We hope strikes remain a vestige of the past.

As local USW members consider the terms of the contract proposal for final ratification, we hope they agree with their leadership that progress has been made on worker safety and work conditions. And we hope the companies have found good partners in moving forward with their employees so they can operate their facilities safely and efficiently. Those things will be to the benefit of the workers, the companies and this community.