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US oil workers threaten to expand strike to California port

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 08:52
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The Port of Long Beach, which has been dealing with cargo delays since last year amid labour negotiations between terminal operators and longshoremen, may soon have another problem on its hands.

[SAN FRANCISCO] The Port of Long Beach, which has been dealing with cargo delays since last year amid labour negotiations between terminal operators and longshoremen, may soon have another problem on its hands.

United Steelworkers members who help run oil terminals at the port that supply Los Angeles-area refineries are threatening to join a national oil workers' strike as they negotiate their own contract with Tesoro Logistics LP, said Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer of the union local representing the labourers. The group will meet with members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on Wednesday to discuss whether they would honour a walkout, he said.

"We're all dealing with employers that seem to think they can push unions off the cliff, and we're fighting back," Mr Campbell said by phone Tuesday.

"We might have a big labour confrontation at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor." The USW members at Tesoro's Long Beach terminals would join the biggest oil workers' strike since 1980, when a work stoppage lasted three months.

The union has walked out of nine refineries in the US that account for 13 per cent of the country's fuel capacity since Feb 1. A combined oil and port workers' strike at Long Beach would threaten to exacerbate slowdowns that have already stranded cargo ships off of West Coast ports and forced manufacturers to fly products to retailers.

"We'd encourage both labour and management to come to an agreement on that contract for the oil terminal workers," Lee Peterson, a spokesman for the port in Long Beach, said by phone on Tuesday. "It's obviously very important for the region's economy and several refiners in the area."

VESSELS WAITING

Thirty-two vessels were waiting to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach at 7am local time on Tuesday, according to Mr Peterson. "Things are pretty slowed down as it is at this point," he said.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the longshore union, declined by phone to comment.

Tesoro Logistics, a San Antonio-based limited partnership formed by Tesoro Corp, unloads oil at marine terminals in Long Beach for delivery to Tesoro's Carson and Wilmington refineries in Southern California. Its Pier B berths can discharge 32,000 barrels an hour through a 24-inch line to tanks, the harbour's website shows. Another terminal, Berth 121, is capable of unloading tankers carrying 2 million barrels, according to regulatory filings.

TESORO PLANS

Tina Barbee, a spokeswoman at Tesoro's headquarters in San Antonio, said the company has a contingency plan that would allow it to "safely operate our facilities with trained and qualified staff" should a strike occur. USW workers have walked out of three of Tesoro's refineries, in Martinez and Carson, California, and Anacortes, Washington.

"We've not received any further notices of intent to strike," Ms Barbee said. "We have been and will continue to bargain in good faith."

USW leaders and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, bargaining on behalf of oil companies, are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to resume negotiations on a national agreement, Lynne Hancock, a union spokesman based in Nashville, Tennessee, said by phone on Tuesday.

"Should negotiations continue to go sour," they will be the ones to decide if members working for Tesoro Logistics will join the strike, she said.

The national union has called strikes at: Tesoro's three plants; Marathon Petroleum Corp's Catlettsburg complex in Kentucky and Galveston Bay site in Texas; Shell's Deer Park complex; LyondellBasell Industries NV's Houston facility; and BP Plc's Whiting and Toledo refineries in the Midwest.

More than 5,200 workers have walked out, USW statements show.

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