Striking United Steelworkers at Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Kentucky oil refinery will return to work next week for the first time in more than two months, leaving workers at four other U.S. sites still on strike.
Union members at Catlettsburg will begin returning to work Monday and take over the operations on April 11, said Dave Martin, chairman of the negotiating committee, in a text message Saturday. Workers approved a new labor contract and return-to-work agreement Friday.
Catlettsburg was among the first seven USW refinery locals that went on strike beginning February 1 after talks between the union and Royal Dutch Shell, representing oil companies, broke down without a new national oil bargaining pattern. By February 22, that number had expanded to 12 sites accounting for about 20% of the nation’s refining capacity.
Union negotiators reached a tentative agreement with Shell, subject to ratification by local union chapters, on March 12. The four-year agreement sets minimum standards for such areas as raises and health and safety standards that refiners are to include in their local contracts with workers.
Negotiations over local issues like policies on overtime delayed returns to work. The local unions and companies are still negotiating at BP sites in Indiana and Ohio, Marathon’s Galveston Bay refinery in Texas City, Texas, and LyondellBasell’s site, in Houston.
Kent “Bear” Farr, a union negotiator for workers at the LyondellBasell site said that while talks are scheduled for April 7, the company “is inflexible and the union intractable” on proposed changes in overtime pay policy. Workers met most recently with the company on March 31.
Bob Lofton, the USW staff representative and a negotiator for union members at BP’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery, said no meetings are scheduled for next week. The two sides last met on April 1.