Open up Negotiations and get Workers Back to Work. The sooner, the better.

Featured imageA few days ago, the Steelworkers Union (2015) wrote, “The United Steelworkers (USW) announced today that it will expand its unfair labor practice strike (ULP) by launching a work stoppage tonight at midnight at the Motiva Enterprises refinery in Port Arthur, Texas” (usw.org/news). The timing of this strike against the oil companies is horrendous for the steel workers. I think at the end of the day, the employees who are part of that union may eventually make some gains but what they lose economically while on strike will consume many of the gains they may be able to achieve.

Think about it like this: You may get a $2,000 a year raise at the end of a strike. However, you lost $4,000 by striking because union workers do not get paid by their company while they are on strike. The union may have a little money on hand for their strikers, but they only supply minimal support, if any. The timing is atrocious because of the cut back on capital spending, layoffs, less drilling oil. So, I have to question why the union leadership would take them out on strike. Now entering its fourth week, negotiations have still not proven to be successful at dispersing the strike. Employees will not recover financially from a strike in a near term. Strikes are generally lose/lose and the harm it does is irreparable. Workers dislike managers. Managers don’t trust their workers and the group implodes.

During the strike, the plant is still running, jobs are temporarily being filled, and the end consumer is still getting their product. The overall effect of this strike on America is minimal. According to CNBC (2015), “The strike spreads over 12 oil refineries and affects about 20 percent of the U.S.’ production” (cnbc.com).

One company’s leadership said they would pay several thousand dollars to each strike participant in order to get them to come back to work. In the agreement, after they resume, then they will negotiate further. Companies are not going to change their practices significantly. Bringing in people for contract work to do turn around jobs, is okay. Union workers do not like this, but it is still a good business idea.

With the downturn in the oil business, they do not have much leverage over the company, so the unionized employees lose. Alternatively, what is wrong with the Exxon proposal? Why not get your $4500 and go back to work while the contract is being negotiated. Maybe it is time for the union to undergo some drastic changes in the process, so that employees don’t suffer all of these hardships.

Shell has taken the role of lead spokesman for bargaining. So they are at the table talking to the union. Whatever Shell agrees to with the union, then everyone else will fall in line and agree as well, kind of like the way the United Nations works.

The OCAWU pattern (Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers), now known as the United Steelworkers, is a set of agreements reached and followed the other impacted oil company’s union members.  Many unions, even those who are not part of OCAWU, use these practices as a main outline for their individual companies A main group, like OCAWU, negotiates for the biggest points, like wage increases, employee safety, contractors and so forth. Of course, there were other things that were pertinent to a particular location. These were called local issues. Local issues are solved by each location and are not part of any national OCAWU negotiations.

Here’s something I did at a plant in the Midwest. At the time, 11 unions followed OCAWU. We knew the contract expiration date was approaching so we believed we should let everyone keep working, even if the expiration date passed. You see, if the expiration date passes and no agreement has been reached, a rolling 24 is usually enacted. This means we will keep working until an agreement is reached, or until the union headquarters calls for a strike. (Which is what is currently happening.)What I thought was best was to give the Union what they needed to continue working throughout the negotiations. I suggested the change that was made was for union employees to continue to work and the company’s and union agree to a mutual problem solving process that takes place throughout the entire year. One, you don’t wait for the contract to be up in order to change it, if needed. You can do away with open and closed subjects and solve problems continuously.

Normally, closed subjects can only be discussed when a contract is open for bargaining, which is when it has expired. I believed (and still believe) we should talk about everything in a mutual problem solving type of way. Let’s not stonewall each other. By this I mean, if we have a problem, let’s talk about it all of the time. Let’s not let it build up for years; generally a contract is about 3 years. This practice eliminates strike deadlines. In my experience, the employees kept working and we talked year around.

I did this twice. People thought it was a fluke the first time. Three years later, we didn’t stop working when the contract was up. There was no strike, it was no longer necessary. We just worked with each other consistently.  Instead of waiting for 3 years to figure out what we wanted and hitting each other over the head with a plethora of dung, the Midwest Company consistently met and talked about our goals, concerns and wants for the group. The company was down millions when I stepped in and when I left, we were netting at least a million a year.

Why not work together all of the time to work out our issues?

I recently read in the Washington Post (2015) that, “If negotiations break down further, the strike could spread to other refineries, and could slow U.S. output enough to scare traders into bidding gasoline prices higher” (washingtonpost.com). You know what I think? I think people who don’t understand how it works could be frightened. But, look at history. There is no shortage on gasoline. Absolutely not. Traders sometimes prey on fear. “Oh shit, we’re going to run out of gas” Ha! It ain’t gonna happen! Let’s open up negotiations and get the workers back to work while we do so. The sooner, the better.

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