FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail