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Latest News - May 2015

May 19, 2015
Striking workers say no to Marathon's latest contract offer

A plan to require off-duty employees to wear pagers and report to the refinery within one hour of getting a call helped sink a contract proposal from Marathon's Galveston Bay refinery, striking workers said.

So did a proposal that would let the company change work schedules at the last minute so employees would be forced to work on their scheduled days off or be prevented from going home after their shifts ended, the workers said outside the refinery in Texas City as picketing continued.

On Monday night, the 1,100 members of the United Steelworkers union overwhelmingly rejected the company's latest proposal to end the strike that began Feb. 1.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. has declined to publicly address any particulars of the offer. But on Tuesday, members said they were not surprised it got voted down because of what they consider draconian new measures if they approved the pact.

"They're trying to gut the benefits we bargained for," said Aaron Maldonado, an operator at the plant who spent the afternoon walking the picket line in front of one of the gates. It was eerily quiet, save for the occasional truck that lumbered by and tooted a horn in support of the striking workers. The employee parking lots across the road from the plant were empty.

At the nearby union hall, Marathon employees seem to be coming to grips with being still mired in unresolved local issues while nearly all of their oil colleagues across the U.S. have returned to work. The BP refinery in Toledo, Ohio, is the only other plant still on strike. At its peak, workers were striking at 15 plants.

In March, the Steelworkers reached a four-year labor agreement with Shell Oil Co. which was acting as the lead negotiator. Other companies quickly signed on to the pattern set by Shell, and nearly everyone has gone back to work.

Marathon employees figured they'd go back to work, too.

"I actually shaved when they announced the new contract," said Mike Stefka, another operator walking the picket line.

Marathon issued a statement Tuesday that it was disappointed union members did not approve the latest labor proposal.

Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry said the company remains committed to resolving the labor dispute and making final a new collective bargaining agreement.

But at the union hall, members were replacing tattered picket signs held together with duct tape with new ones. They were attaching foam rubber to some of the sign poles to make them more comfortable when slung over their shoulders during marches.

Employees are holding up well, union members said. Some have found temporary jobs; others are relying on their working spouses to keep money coming in. And the community is pitching in; the union hall has hundreds of cans of food stocked on newly built shelves.

A federal mediator has been meeting with both sides, and employees said they understood it was the mediator who recommended union members get a chance to vote on the company's proposal. Last month, union officials rejected Marathon's "last, best and final" offer without sending it to the membership for a vote.

Unlike the strikes at Shell and LyondellBasell, Marathon has not allowed any of the striking workers to cross the picket line and return to work. Striking employees say that, based on the out-of-state license plates at the refinery, Marathon appears to be staffing its refinery with supervisors who have come from other locations.

The strike is not about pocketbook issues but about work schedules, family time and safety, the employees said.

Maldonado said the proposed pager requirement would make it impossible to take his family away for a short trip. He said it's unclear how often employees would have to wear the pagers.

They said another reason the contract didn't pass was Marathon's plan to change the safety provisions put in place after a 2005 explosion there killed 15 workers. The refinery was then owned by BP.

Maldonado said the company wants to end the recommended safety practice of allowing rank and file safety representatives to respond to complaints. The company wants to only send its corporate representative, he said.




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