In Oil Refinery Strike, Shell Shifts From ‘Contingency’ to Long-Term ‘Continuity’ With Replacements

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Shell Deer Park2

During labor disputes, companies have a legal right to replace striking workers–either temporarily or even permanently in the case of an economic strike.

As the United Steelworkers’ strike at the nation’s oil refineries heads into its fifth week, Shell Oil–the lead negotiator for the industry–appears ready to use replacement workers for the duration of the strike, no matter how long the strike lasts.

On Tuesday, the company announced on its website that the company would be using replacement workers to ensure ‘business continuity’ and, by mid-summer, would return its largest refinery (in Deer Park, TX) to a ‘full rotation.’

From the Shell Oil Company.

In a letter to staff, Aamir Farid, Manufacturing Vice President, Americas, discusses transitioning from contingency plans to business as normal operations as USW strike continues.

When our contract with the USW expired and employees were called out on strike this past February 1, we activated our contingency plan for Deer Park and recently activated the plan for the Norco Chemical Plant.

Similar contingency plans have been in place for all USW represented sites for well over 12 months. These plans have been carefully developed and tested to assure that we are able to run our facilities safely and maintain our commitments to our neighbors and customers.  The strength of the plans and our employees has been demonstrated at both Deer Park and Norco.

We are disappointed that the USW International Union seems unwilling to achieve a timely and reasonable agreement; but, we are also determined to continue running our business – this is in the best interest of our employees, our customers, the sites and the communities in which we operate. As the USW strike goes into its fifth week at Deer Park and second week at Norco Chemical, I want to provide an update on what to expect as we shift our focus from contingency to business continuity. 

When USW represented workers were directed by the union to stop work at Deer Park on February 1, we began the handover of the facility to Shell trained operators. Following procedures, we ensured everything was operating in accordance to people and process safety protocols.

Once the handover was completed, we turned our focus to bringing in and training additional staff.  These are qualified Shell employees, all of whom receive training prior to entering the rotation. The conclusion of this process is focused on returning our operations to a full rotation

At Deer Park, that goal will be achieved mid-summer. By then, we expect to have trained and deployed all required relief employees to return to full rotation.  We recognize and appreciate the contribution of those team members running our assets during this time —a key step in our business continuity plans is to have team members return to their normal duties

The steps we have implemented as part of our contingency and business continuity plans have allowed us to maintain safe and reliable operations at our manufacturing sites, deliver product to our customers, grow our business and continue to provide good jobs for our employees.

We’ll keep moving forward. We are committed to you, as well as to our communities and customers. We are unwavering in those commitments and they remain unchanged. They will guide each and every decision and action as we move forward—together, as one team. [Emphasis added.]

It appears, despite the parties meeting on Wednesday, both the union and managment are digging in for the long haul.

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