Four weeks into the largest nationwide strike by oil plant workers in 36 years, the fight over critical safety standards in a deadly industry has grown even larger, with the movement now including 15 plants and 6,500 workers.
As Common Dreams has previously reported, the workers are demanding basic protections from some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies, which they say create an environment of forced overtime and high out-of-pocket health care costs, while regularly outsourcing risky jobs to untrained contract workers.
"Our local union has lost 14 members in 16 years. Quite frankly, we’re tired of our coworkers being killed and being subjected to this risk," said Steve Garey, president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union chapter in Anacortes, Washington.
Walkouts and work stoppages began earlier this month after disputes between USW and the oil companies could not be resolved. As of Saturday, workers at plants in Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana are striking. That includes a Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas which, at a crude capacity of 600,000 barrels a day, is the largest of its kind in the country. Of the 15 plants involved in the strike, a dozen are oil refineries, which together account for a fifth of national production capacity, the LA Times reports.
The strikes are continuing following USW's rejection last week of Shell's most recent contract offer, its seventh since the dispute began in January. Labor leaders say the companies have not done enough to tackle the union's safety concerns. Plants are understaffed and workers are expected to take on long shifts, while the refineries neglect the rules meant to prevent accidents caused by that kind of exhausting environment, USW says.