Chevron begins replacing workers ahead of California refinery strike

A view of Chevron Corp’s refinery in Richmond, California on August 7, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

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MARCH 20 (Reuters) – Chevron Corp. began handing over some operations at a California oil refinery to replace workers on Sunday ahead of a United Steelworkers’ strike scheduled to begin shortly after 12 a.m. PT on Monday.

A union official said he told Chevron of its intention to start a strike at the plant outside San Francisco after negotiations failed to reach an agreement on a new work contract.

The current contract at the Richmond, California refinery expired on February 1. The two sides agreed to a rolling extension that was not renewed by the union after the workers rejected the last offer.

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The plant, with a capacity of 245,000 barrels per day, is the second largest refinery in the state, employs more than 500 union workers and produces gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel.

“It’s disappointing that Chevron has moved off the table instead of bargaining in good faith,” said Mike Smith, head of the USW’s National Oil Bargaining Program.

A Chevron spokesman said in a statement Sunday that Chevron is committed to continuing to negotiate an agreement.

The spokesman added that the company, which is headquartered in San Ramon, California, “is prepared to continue normal operations safely and reliably to provide the energy products consumers need.”

California has some of the highest fuel prices in the country, with a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline selling Sunday for $5,847 and a gallon of diesel for $6,258, according to AAA Motorists Group.

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Chevron’s turnover team began taking control of the operations of the refinery run by union workers Sunday afternoon before the strike deadline, a person familiar with the matter said.

US and US refiners last month reached a national agreement providing for a 12% wage increase over four years for some 30,000 union members in oil and chemical companies. Each local union separately negotiated a contract covering issues for the plant, and Richmond workers voted twice on Chevron’s proposals. Read more

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

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

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(Reporting by Gary McWilliams), plus Irwin Siba. Editing by Will Dunham and Diane Craft

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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