Texas Steelworkers On Strike Against Oil Companies Over Unsafe Working Conditions

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Union steelworkers are standing up to big oil, right here in Texas.

As of Sunday morning, steelworkers at five oil refineries are on strike, in protest against unsafe working conditions after negotiations with Shell Oil company, who represented the oil industry in the talks. Over 5,000 workers in the greater Houston area are now on strike, and held a protest this week in front of one oil company’s headquarters to increase the pressure.

USW International Vice President Gary Beevers released the following statement:

This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire.

USW was willing to continue bargaining with Shell, but the union contends that the international oil corporation refused to return to the table and negotiate.

“This industry is the richest in the world and can afford to make the changes we offered in bargaining,” stated USW International Vice President of Administration Tom Conway. “The problem is that oil companies are too greedy to make a positive change in the workplace and they continue to value production and profit over health and safety, workers and the community.”

The work stoppage impacts five Texas refineries:

  • LyondellBasell in Houston, TX
  • Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, TX
  • Marathon Houston Green Cogeneration facility, Texas City, TX
  • Shell Deer Park Refinery, Deer Park, TX
  • Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant, Deer Park, TX

The workers have plenty of allies in their fight for safe working conditions. The national chapter of the Sierra Club is standing with the striking workers, as founding partners in the BlueGreen alliance.

National Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released the following statement in support of the strike (emphasis mine):

The Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers co-founded the BlueGreen alliance and have jointly spoken out to make it clear that the health and safety of workers and communities and the protection of the environment are inextricably linked. Whether it’s been the Deepwater Horizon disaster, an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas, or another at the Tesoro refinery in Washington, the tragic examples of oil companies and oil executives not following the laws meant to protect our air, our water, and their workers have shown just how real that connection is. Each of these tragedies is an example of how disaster could have been presented if these oil companies abided by legal safeguards. If they had learned their lesson then, they likely wouldn’t be facing this strike today.

These workers are asking for basic protections, and they’re lucky to have a union that will stand with them and support them in their work stoppage. All American workers deserve these basic protections, and the right to organize. We stand in solidarity with the steelworkers and their fight against big oil’s efforts to put profits ahead of people.

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About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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