U.S. refinery workers to press for more pay as virus roils oil firms

HOUSTON, Aug. 13 (Reuters) – U.S. refinery and chemical workers agreed on Friday to focus on wages and health insurance in upcoming union contract talks, people familiar with United Steelworkers (USW) union advisory services said and sparked a conflict with refineries struggling to make up for losses from weak demand.

Proposals to set an agenda for pay rises, improved health insurance and severance pay were adopted at the union’s national oil negotiation policy conference, held online. The national agenda has yet to be approved by local union members.

Three-quarters of the 30,000 oil and chemical plant workers represented by the USW must approve the plan before entering into negotiations that begin in January between the union and Marathon Petroleum Corp (MPC.N), the leading oil negotiator, can be used firms.

The current three-year contract expires on February 1, 2022 at 12:01 a.m.

“We had a successful day,” said a USW member who refused to be identified after the conference ended.

Talks with refinery and chemical plant owners begin as the delta variant of the coronavirus threatens to enforce bans and work from home guidelines more than a year after the first outbreak of COVID-19 disease, lowering petroleum demand.

The pandemic cut gasoline consumption by 13% over the past year, forcing some refineries to shut down production lines and take on new debt to fund operations.

This is the second round of negotiations since a nationwide strike in 2015 that picketed 7,000 workers from 12 refineries and three chemical plants. It was the first nationwide strike in 35 years.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Adaptation by Grant McCool

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