United Steelworkers Union members and their supporters rally Saturday in support of striking Tesoro refinery workers in Anacortes. The action at the facility on March's Point was part of a National Day of Action for Safe Refineries, Secure Jobs, and Healthy Communities that took place nationwide. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
Union leaders call for nationwide “Day of Action” as a sign of solidarity
By Evan Marczynski Skagit Valley Herald 2/08/15
ANACORTES — Supporters joined United Steelworkers Union members on strike outside the Tesoro refinery Saturday as part of a national rally called to demonstrate unity after stalled negotiations over a new contract.
About 150 people walked a picket line midday outside the main gate of the Anacortes plant on March’s Point. They included refinery workers who left their jobs in a work stoppage at the facility on Sunday, Feb. 1, as well as USW union members from refineries around the region and members of other labor groups and union supporters.
United Steelworkers Union member Bill Conger, an operator at the Shell refinery, pickets Saturday in support of striking Tesoro refinery workers in Anacortes. The action at the facility on March's Point was part of a National Day of Action for Safe Refineries, Secure Jobs, and Healthy Communities that took place nationwide. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
Tesoro’s refinery in Anacortes was one of nine nationwide called by the USW to strike in a show of solidarity after the union turned down the fourth contract offer in talks with Dutch Royal Shell, negotiating on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.
Keith Casey, executive vice president for Tesoro operations, said the company is “extremely disappointed by USW local bargaining units’ decision to strike,” in a news release Monday, Feb. 2. “We have bargained in good faith and were prepared to continue to do so. The national United Steelworkers union instead chose to call for a strike.”
Talks continued earlier this week but are now on “temporary hiatus,” the USW said Saturday, as the union waits for a response to an information request.
The Anacortes Tesoro refinery is still in operation amid the strike. Tesoro said last week the facility was prepared for a work stoppage and expects to safely continue refinery operations and meet customer demands.
Shell’s refinery in Anacortes remains under contract and is not currently affected.
Members of United Steelworkers Local 12-591 in Skagit County who picketed on Saturday said worker safety is a chief concern in the contract talks. Tied to that is unease over a lack of union input in determining how many workers are necessary to safely run refineries, as well as risks involved in allowing more maintenance work to be done by outside contractors instead of company employees.
“We want a voice at the table about how we’re safely staffing these refineries,” said local union Chairman Ryan Anderson.
Jay Defrancesco, an operator at the Tesoro refinery, said he hopes negotiations will also ensure oil companies keep union members’ health insurance affordable, especially considering the dangerous nature of refining work.
“They just don’t realize what we go through. I think the company should stand behind us and keep us healthy,” said Defrancesco, who was among the last group of workers to walk out when the strike was called Feb. 1 at the refinery in Anacortes.
Kim Althoff, who works at the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, came with six other members of USW Local 12‑592 in Pierce County. Though Althoff’s refinery has not joined the strike, he said he wanted to show support and raise awareness of the union’s safety concerns.
“We’re all in the same game together,” Althoff said.
— Reporter Evan Marczynski: 360-416-2149, emarczynski@skagitpublishing.