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Oil industry negotiations highlight safety concerns


PITTSBURGH—Recent contract negotiations with the oil industry—led by Shell Oil Co.—will result in a three-year national bargaining agreement if ratified by 30,000 of the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers' 850,000 international members.

The agreement would affect 168 refining, petrochemical, transportation, and pipeline operations nationwide, including 69 refineries that represent nearly 65% of U.S. refining capacity, the USW said in a January statement.

As is typical during labor contract renewal time, the union has not released details of its national negotiations with the refineries because its local affiliates are still negotiating over local demands. But leading up to the negotiations, the USW criticized poor process safety practices and equipment failures for causing 18 deaths in the petrochemical industry from 2009 through 2011. It often cited the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig tragedy as an example of what can go wrong.

“Health and safety in the oil industry is still out of control, and we can't let this continue any longer,” said one union statement released in January.

Gary Beevers, USW's international vp for oil bargaining, said in another statement that “since the last time we sat down to bargain with the oil industry three years ago, 18 oil workers have died on the job. That's unacceptable. This time around we expect to see some real, enforceable improvements on health and safety.”

In another document posted on the USW's website, the union told members it was demanding the right to refuse unsafe work; safe staffing levels at refineries; process safety representatives accountable to workers, not the company; and proper inspection and maintenance of refinery equipment.

A USW spokesman said that the union would not have moved forward with the contract ratification effort had it not realized “pretty significant success” on the process safety issues it demanded.

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