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It’s Not Over Until The Fat Man Signs

The USW press release states, “The United Steelworkers (USW) announced today (March 12) that it has reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with Shell Oil as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry. The agreement accomplishes the major goals as directed by the USW’s oil conference in October of last year, and has been approved by union’s lead negotiators and National Oil Bargaining Policy (NOBP) Committee.

This tentative “national agreement” to end the six week strike action between the union and the energy industry was a response to the expiration of last wage agreement and the break down of talks. The strike was called on Feb 1, 2015 for workers at 15 union plants, including 12 refineries. It was not a national strike action. Both sides have issued press releases about the agreement and the USW national has called to a rapid acceptance by all of the local chapters impacted by the strike action.

Six weeks is a long time to be on the picket line, but The World Socialist Web Site thinks that, “The move by the USW to rapidly shut down the strike is its response to the growing sentiment among workers for a national strike and a broadening of the struggle to other sections of the working class. The union is concerned that the strike could get out of hand, seriously impacting the profits and production of the oil companies and bringing the workers into a political conflict with the Obama administration, which it supports."

You might assume that the agreement would pave the way for the workers to stop the picket lines and return to work, but that is not how it works.

The WSWS site says, “The national framework, which includes miserly pay increases and promises of union-management committees instead of company commitments to address safety concerns, will form the basis for agreements aimed at ending the strikes at the local level, perhaps within days. There is no opportunity for workers to vote on the national agreement itself.”

“The USW hopes to ensure that any section of refinery that rejects the sell-out agreement will be even further isolated. As Dave Campbell, treasurer of the USW local covering Tesoro’s Carson, California refinery, put it: 'It’s possible that action will continue. It would just continue on a local level rather than nationally.'”

Locally the reactions are interesting and varied. The oil companies are supportive of the agreement, but there are local issues and negotiations that will impact whether or not the strikes are actually over. According to the WSWS article, “In some cases, the oil companies are seeking local agreements that would separate out workers from the time frame of the national framework, a practice that has been pioneered in the auto industry. This is the case at ExxonMobil’s Beaumont, Texas refinery, for example, where workers continued to work throughout the strike."

“A worker at the refinery told the World Socialist Web Site: 'Here in Beaumont, ExxonMobil is demanding a five-year agreement to separate us from the rest of the national bargaining agreement. They want to give us a $4,500 signing bonus for labor peace during an expansion. The local union committee is opposing this. But if ExxonMobil doesn’t honor the [national] tentative agreement and all the other places have already settled, we are very anxious that the local will cave in because the USW International has left us out here alone.'”

Looks like there are still many moving parts to be resolved before the fat man signs the final agreements.

It is not over yet. Stay tuned.