Chevron begins replacing workers ahead of the California refinery strike

Chevron Corp’s refinery is shown in Richmond, California August 7, 2012. REUTERS / Robert Galbraith

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March 20 (Reuters) – Chevron Corp began turning over some operations at a California oil refinery to replacement workers on Sunday ahead of a United Steelworkers strike set to begin shortly after 12 am PDT on Monday.

A union official said it had notified Chevron of its intent to begin a strike at the plant outside of San Francisco after negotiations failed to reach agreement on a new labor contract.

The existing contract at the Richmond, California, refinery expired Feb. 1. Both sides had agreed to a rolling extension that was not renewed by the union after workers rejected the latest offer.

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The 245,000 barrel-per-day plant is the second-largest refinery in the state, employs more than 500 union-represented workers and produces gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel.

“It’s disappointing that Chevron would walk away from the table instead of bargaining in good faith,” said Mike Smith, chair of the USW’s National Oil Bargaining Program.

Chevron is committed to continuing to negotiate toward an agreement, a spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday.

The San Ramon, California-based company was “prepared to continue normal operations safely and reliably to provide the energy products that are needed by consumers,” the spokesperson added.

California has some of the highest fuel prices in the nation with a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline on Sunday selling for $ 5.847 and a gallon of diesel for $ 6.258, according to motorist group AAA.

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A Chevron turnover team began taking control of refinery operations manned by union workers on Sunday afternoon ahead of the strike deadline, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The USW and US refiners reached a national agreement last month that provides a 12% pay raise over four years to the union’s about 30,000 members at oil and chemical companies. Each local union separately negotiates a contract covering plant-specific issues, and Richmond workers have twice voted down Chevron proposals. read more

On Saturday, the union had advised machinists to go to the refinery and remove their personal tools before the contract extension expires.

Union members have twice voted to reject contract proposals put forward by Chevron. The last vote, completed on Saturday, was overwhelmingly against what was called the company’s last, best and final offer, according to messages posted on-line by USW Local 12-5.

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Reporting by Gary McWilliams, additional reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Will Dunham and Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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