FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Oil Refinery Workers Go on Strike

On Sunday, when 3,800 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) walked off their jobs at nine oil refineries across the country (including two in my home state of California), it marked the first national oil refinery strike in more than three decades, going all the way back to 1980. Congratulations, USW. With this strike, organized labor is finally showing signs of life.

Although industry analysts have pointed out that gasoline prices were already edging upwards several days before the strike, everyone is going to blame the union for any rise in gas pump prices. And why wouldn’t they? Unions make excellent scapegoats. Indeed, with the strike only a couple days old, expect the oil companies to seize this opportunity to raise prices disproportionately.

But the facts tell a different story. Looking back to 1980, the year of the last national refinery strike, Phil Flynn, an analyst with the Price Futures Group, noted that even though that strike lasted a whopping three months, it had little effect on gasoline prices. According to Flynn, it raised prices only “a couple of pennies at best.”

The USW called this current strike after rejecting five substandard proposals (the union described the final offer as “insulting”) from Royal Dutch Shell, the company acting as lead negotiator for the oil industry. In a strategic move, the USW’s walkout targeted specific facilities. Among them: the Tesoro Corporation, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Petroleum, and LyondellBasell Industries, facilities stretching from California to Texas and Kentucky.

Aware that the oil companies and media will try to portray these union members as greedy bastards, USW spokeswoman, Lynne Hancock, made it clear that, while hourly wages are a component of these negotiations (as they have been in virtually every contract negotiation in every industry in history), they are not central to the bargain. This shutdown isn’t about hourly pay. “Wages are not a part of this walkout whatsoever,” she said.

Among the issues central to the strike are: mandatory employee contributions to medical insurance, continued reductions in headcount (leading to lower staffing, longer hours and more fatigue), and the company’s refusal to take seriously the union’s request that the membership be trained for jobs that are increasingly being performed by outside contractors.

This outside contractor issue has become a huge deal to unions everywhere. And when it reaches critical mass, it’s going to become a huge deal to non-union workers as well. Based on what’s occurring in the marketplace, it’s the dream of every company to change the status of their workers from “employee” to “independent contractor,” thereby allowing them not to have to pay for insurance, pensions, vacations or holidays.

Once your employees become classified as contractors, all you have to do is give them cash for doing the job. Write them a paycheck and be done with it. And because there’s almost always going to be a surplus of workers, market forces are going to constantly drive wages downward.

But even on those occasions when employers are required to pay top dollar for workers, the savings in benefits and administrative costs is going to be enormous. Which is why the move toward “de-categorizing” employees has become so popular.

No matter how this USW strike turns out, one hopes it sheds light on what’s become a dangerous trend. The notion of loyal employees retiring after working thirty years for the same company is an anachronism. Companies don’t want loyalty. They want flexibility. And what they can’t get from contractors, they’ll try and get from robots. It ain’t a pretty picture.

David Macaray, a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail