U.S. refinery strike enters 18th day as talks restart

By Erwin Seba
A view of an entrance to the Tesoro refinery in Martinez, California, February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

By Erwin Seba

(Reuters) - The largest U.S refinery workers strike since 1980 entered its 18th day on Wednesday as union and oil company representatives prepared to renew face-to-face negotiations over pay and safety, after a week's hiatus.

More than 5,000 workers at 11 plants, including nine refineries accounting for 13 percent of U.S. production capacity, remained on strike with little sign of a quick end.

Face-to-face talks between representatives of the United Steelworkers union (USW) and lead oil company negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc have been on hold as the company compiled a reply to an information request from the union and weighed a counterproposal from the union.

The union's lead negotiator International Vice President Gary Beevers told Reuters in an interview on Monday that safe staffing levels at refineries and chemical plants remain a key sticking point. The union also wants wage increases.

No new strike notices have been issued by the USW since Feb. 6 when workers at plants in Whiting, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, were told to walk off their jobs starting the next day.

Tesoro Corp's 166,000-bpd plant in Martinez, California, was the only refinery to cease operations due to the strike. Part of it was already shut for maintenance and after the walkout started the rest was idled. Tesoro officials have said production at the refinery will not resume for the duration of the strike.

Shell has rescheduled from March until September a planned overhaul of a hydrocracking unit at its 327,000 barrels per day (bpd) joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, Texas, sources told Reuters on Monday. The refinery's gasoline-producing fluidic catalytic cracking unit remains shut, though the rest of the plant is operating as usual.

The USW is seeking a three-year, industrywide pact that would cover 30,000 workers at 63 U.S. refineries that together account for two-thirds of domestic capacity.

Companies have called on trained temporary replacement workers to keep their plants running at nearly normal levels.

(This version of the story changes the day of week in lead to Wednesday.)