On Sunday, workers at two BP oil refineries in Ohio and Indiana walked out as part of a nationwide oil worker strike being led by the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Citing unfair labor practices and dangerous conditions, including leaks and explosions, the approximately 1,440 workers will join nearly 4,000 that began striking a week ago on February 1.
The first nationwide strike by oil refinery workers since 1980, the addition of BP’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery and the company’s joint-venture refinery with Husky Energy in Toledo, Ohio, brings the total number of plants with strikers to 11, including refineries accounting for about 13 percent of total U.S. oil refining capacity. The original strike included workers in California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington.
The USW called for the strike after talks broke down with Shell Oil, which is leading the industry-wide bargaining effort. It comes at an already tumultuous time as plummeting oil prices have given rise to a heated debate over the future of an industry that relies on extracting cheap and plentiful resources from the ground. This precipitous drop in crude oil prices by over 60 percent since June has caused companies to lay off workers and delay plans for expansion; what they see as the most painless means of avoiding profit cuts. The strike is not expected to impact gas prices.
In a statement, USW International President Leo W. Gerard said the oil industry is long overdue in addressing many of the issues that directly impact workers’ health and safety.