World News

United Steelworkers union mulls new negotiating partner for oil bargaining

By Laura Sanicola

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The United Steelworkers union (USW) is considering designating a new lead negotiator in the National Oil Bargaining process, the union’s president said on Wednesday, as current lead negotiator Shell cuts back on the number of refineries it owns.

Speaking at the National Oil Bargaining conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USW International President Tom Conway noted that Shell Oil Co, the U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell Plc <RDSa.L>, had publicly committed to reducing the number of refineries in its portfolio.

Shell has been the lead company in contract talks for U.S. union-represented refinery workers since the late 1990s. In that role, it has negotiated over national issues like wages and safety standards with the USW, used as a blueprint for the U.S. fuel and petrochemical industry. Site-specific issues are negotiated locally.

“The industry is changing,” Conway told Reuters at the conference, adding that a number of refiners are being considered and the union has not yet decided on the lead company for 2022 contract talks.

Shell is trying to use its global scale to build a power business as the world moves toward cleaner energy. The Anglo-Dutch company has committed to selling more than $5 billion of assets per year in 2019 and 2020.

“As lead company, we routinely evaluate the outcomes of bargaining and the contributions we made to the process. We remain committed to the National Oil Bargaining process,” a Shell spokesman said, in a statement.

Most recently, Shell sold its refinery in Martinez, California, to independent refiner PBF Energy <PBF.N>. Shell’s refineries in Anacortes, Washington and Sarnia, Ontario, are also understood to be for sale.

Peer European oil major BP Plc <BP.L> quit a major U.S. refining lobby last week, and only operates three refineries in the United States.

Meanwhile, independent refiners have been acquiring assets and adding refining capacity in recent years.

Since its $23 billion acquisition of Andeavor in 2018, Marathon Petroleum <MPC.N> can now refine more than 3 million barrels-per-day of crude oil.

The USW last year reached an agreement with Shell that boosts pay by 11% over three years for 30,000 U.S. refinery, chemical plant and pipeline workers.

Rolling strikes in 2015 left more than 7,000 workers at 12 refineries and three chemical plants off their jobs for between two to six months.

(Reporting By David Gaffen; Editing by Tom Brown and Diane Craft)