A nationwide strike at oil refineries organized by the United Steelworkers union expanded to 15 plants in its fourth week.
The walkout, which started at the beginning of the month after the union’s three-year contract with oil companies expired, now includes more than 6,500 workers.
At midnight Saturday, the USW called for a work stoppage at the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The facility, with a crude capacity of 600,000 barrels a day, is the largest of its kind in the country.
Since then, the union also has begun striking at two Motiva refineries and a Shell chemical plant in Louisiana.
Initially, the walkout involved nine refineries, including a Carson facility owned by Tesoro Corp. A week later, union workers began striking at BP refineries in Whiting, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio.
A dozen of the 15 plants are oil refineries and together account for a fifth of national production capacity.
The USW rejected the seventh offer from Shell, the oil industry’s lead negotiator, last week.
“We’re committed to reaching a settlement that works for both parties, but adequate staffing levels, worker fatigue and other important safety issues must be addressed,” USW Vice President Tom Conway said in a statement.
Keith Casey, Tesoro’s executive vice president of operations, sent a letter Monday to employees informing them that national negotiations between oil companies and the USW had broken down late Friday.
He said he did not know of a date for negotiations to resume.
Casey also said the most contentious issue on the table doesn’t concern safety, fatigue, benefits or wages. Rather, he said, negotiators are butting heads over whether to replace contractors with union members.
Tesoro uses contractors for specialized projects, to improve work flow and to supplement its maintenance staff, Casey said.
“Simply said, if you owned a business, do you think you should have the right to staff and hire the right mix of people to make it safe and successful? We do,” he wrote. “It is my opinion that the USW International demands about contractors are about increasing USW dues-paying members.”
Casey said backup crews had safely completed the third week of operations sans union employees. Many workers are living at the refinery, sleeping in temporary quarters and eating full meals served by the company.
In addition to the Carson site, workers are also striking at a Bay Area Tesoro facility in Martinez and at a plant in Anacortes, Wash.
Casey wrote that he had personally visited each strike site and that “all of the refineries are running very well.” At each facility, some union members have decided to return to work while the strike continues, he said.
In Los Angeles, “folks are eager to get back to playing their normal roles on the team,” he said.