Tesoro Refinery workers strike over work conditions, contract

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- You won't see any picketing at the Tesoro refinery in Pacheco, for a few days, but the East Bay oil refinery is on strike.

Workers at the Tesoro refinery, near Martinez, are about to refuse to work for the first time in 35 years. Employees at the oil refinery, are striking because of an issue they say is all about safety.

Monday night, the refinery was in the process of shutting down, which will take several days. Once it does shut down, that is when we will see the picket signs out in front of the refinery. We could also start to see workers walk out at other Bay Area refineries.

The Tesoro refinery may be just the first in the Bay Area to have its workers strike. If the oil industry and the United Steelworkers can't settle their differences at the national level, hundreds of workers at Chevron, Shell and Phillips 66 could follow suit.

"We haven't had a strike since 1980, so we strike as a last resort," Jim Payne from United Steelworkers Local 5 said.

United Steelworkers Local 5 represents 425 employees at Tesoro. He says talks between the company and the union broke down over the weekend over several issues, including worker fatigue.

"If a facility is well staffed, fatigue is not that much of an issue. But if you're running with skeleton levels, then that becomes a problem," Payne said.

In a written statement, Tesoro executive vice president of operations Keith Casey said, "We are extremely disappointed by USW local bargaining units' decision to strike. We have bargained in good faith and were prepared to continue to do so."

Last February, two workers were injured during a chemical spill. Tesoro initially denied entry to U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators, but then relented. A month later, there was another spill, and one more worker injured.

"Tesoro is notorious for being one of the most unsafe refineries here in the Bay Area," Andres Soto with Communities for a Better Environment said. He said they would like to join the United Steelworkers once they go out on the picket lines. "If they're willing to have us, we'll be willing to join them in solidarity, because like I said, we understand that a safe refinery means a safe community."

"The safety culture at every refinery is important and Tesoro's has been a challenge and that's probably why we should look at this very carefully," Martinez City Councilmember Mark Ross said.

The shutdown is expected to be completed by the end of business on Thursday.

Unless the strike goes on for a while, it isn't expected to affect gas prices too much. In the Bay Area we're paying anywhere from $2.37 a gallon in Santa Cruz to $2.62 in San Francisco; that's well over a dollar less per gallon, than last year.
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