ANACORTES — Members of the United Steelworkers United gathered in the rain outside the gates of the Tesoro refinery here Monday to strike over stalled negotiations for a new contract.
The Anacortes plant was one of nine nationwide that the USW called on to strike Sunday after the union rejected the fourth contract offer, which was being negotiated by Dutch Royal Shell on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.
It was not immediately clear whether some of the affected refineries would have to shut down during the strike. But the Anacortes facility continues to operate.
Tesoso spokesman Matthew Gill said Monday that the Anacortes refinery was prepared for the strike and brought in the management team to take over operations Sunday as steelworkers left the job.
“If we didn’t think we could do it safely, we wouldn’t do it,” he said, noting that it has six refineries on the West Coast to work with if necessary.
The Anacortes Shell refinery is still under contract and is not affected at this time.
With 3,800 workers affected, union officials said it was the biggest walkout in more than 30 years, with negotiations breaking down less than two weeks after they began.
“We are extremely disappointed by USW local bargaining units’ decision to strike. We have bargained in good faith and were prepared to continue to do so. The national United Steelworkers union instead chose to call for a strike,” Keith Casey, executive vice president for Tesoro operations said in a press release Monday.
“We intend to safely operate our refineries with fully qualified personnel and are confident in our ability to continue to responsibly produce transportation fuels to meet the needs of our customers,” he said.
Negotiations for a new contract started Jan. 21. The call for a strike happened after USW rejected Shell’s fourth contract offer. The union said Shell refused to provide a counteroffer and that the company’s representatives had left the bargaining table.
United Steelworkers represents about 30,000 workers at refineries, terminals, petrochemical plants and pipelines across the country. Any agreement reached between the union and Shell would then be used in negotiations involving local unions.
Steve Garey, president of United Steelworkers Local 12-591 in Skagit County, is in Florida participating in negotiations.
He said by telephone Monday that while wages and medical insurance are part of the discussions, staffing and maintenance issues are major sticking points. The union wants the oil companies to give the USW a role in determining how many employees are necessary to staff operations.
“We’ve been trying to talk to the industry about a mechanism that would allow us to partner with them and work with them in determining how many people we need in operations to do that work without exposing anyone to excessive amounts of forced overtime,” Garey said.
“How many people does it take to safely operate these plants? That’s really the primary goal,” he said.
Another issue is maintenance — how much of that work is done in-house and how much by outside contractors, he said.
“The more we can do with company employees, the less risk there is,” Garey said.
Garey noted that the risk extends to the community and environment.
“It’s about safety,” he said. “We’ve had horrible incidents in this industry.”
The union called for a strike at the Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas, the Shell Deer Park Refinery in Deer Park, Texas, and the Tesoro Carson Refinery in Carson, California, among other locations, including Anacortes.
Garey said the local union represents about 230 members at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.
Some of those members met at the union hall in Mount Vernon on Monday afternoon.
Local union Chairman Ryan Anderson said the members think staffing levels are inadquate and too much work is given to contractors.
— The Associated Press and Herald reporter Shannen Kuest contributed to this report.