NORCO, LA (WVUE) - Some 800 oil refinery workers in Norco and Convent, Louisiana are on strike, demanding better safety procedures from oil companies nationwide. The United Steelworkers say they'll go without pay for as long as it takes.
Working in shifts and holding signs to get their message across, some oil refinery workers are spending Sunday on the picket line, instead of inside the plant.
"This is about the safety of our employees as well as the community and the environment," said Brent Petit, United Steelworkers Staff Representative.
The United Steelworkers Union is in negotiations for a better fatigue policy from oil companies across the country, arguing workers are often so tired, it puts their jobs and the community, at risk.
"It is not uncommon for operators to work four, five, six, up to 1,000 hours of overtime a year. That's averaging over 60 hours a week. You can't make good decisions when you're that tired," Petit said.
Talks began with Shell Corporation, the lead negotiator for the oil companies, on January 31st, when the current contract expired. So far, they've been unsuccessful.
The union initially started a work stoppage back on February 1st at 11 different facilities across the country. Then Saturday, workers at three plants in Louisiana decided to join the movement. The Shell chemical plant and Motiva refinery in Norco are affected, as is the Motiva refinery in Convent, Louisiana. Between the three, about 800 men and women are going without pay as they fight for what they believe, are better rights.
Petit explains, "It is a hardship, now what the Steelworkers has been very progressive about, as a union to do is, we will provide insurance benefits to striking employees."
As for how the strike may affect consumers, national union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock says, it's not time to worry. "Back in 1980 when there last was nationwide strike by oil workers, the price of gasoline only went up a few pennies. It really didn't have an impact," Hancock said.
At this point, union workers believe, only their bank accounts and possibly the workflow at the plants, are taking the biggest hit.
In a statement, Shell Corporation says it's put seven offers on the negotiating table, all of which have been rejected by the USW. It goes on to say, "The central issue standing in the way of a settlement is not safety or fatigue....the central issue of the USW's national leaders is their continued demand that Shell replace routine maintenance contractors with USW-represented employees."