"...Our focus is on health and safety; it's not wages at all," said USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock.
Thousands of accidents are reported at refineries across the country every year, but typically only make headlines when workers die or when plumes of pollution spew across neighboring communities. Such disasters have been occurring on a yearly basis.
The USW, which bargains on behalf of 30,000 workers at 65 refineries and hundreds of petrochemical facilities, blames working conditions and employment policies at refineries for the industry's alarming safety record.
The union wants to put an end to unsafe staffing levels, long shifts that lead to fatigue, and the industry's habit of replacing union workers with inexperienced contractors, among other injurious practices. When the industry balked at initial proposals in mid-February, the USW accused employers of being more interested in profits than safety.