Employees at the energy company also cited concerns over safety and long working hours.
The strike on March 21 came after the company and members of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) Local 5 failed to reach a contract agreement when workers voted down Chevron’s most recent contract offer.
The company then declined to return to the bargaining table, the United Steelworkers union said, prompting workers to give notice of their intent to begin an unfair labor practice strike at the refinery in the city of Richmond on March 21 at 12:01 a.m.
A previous contract between Chevron and USW Local 5 expired on Feb. 1, and since then, members of the union have been working on a rolling 24-hour extension.
Chevron said in a statement on Sunday that it has negotiated with the union for months, and believes the contract it offered was fair and addressed the concerns raised by the union.
The union said it had negotiated a pattern agreement for oil workers on wages and working conditions on Feb. 25 but that about 200 individual bargaining units still had to negotiate local issues before ratifying their individual contracts.
But Chevron said that the union’s demands at the Richmond refinery “exceeded what the company believes to be reasonable and moved beyond what was agreed to as part of the national pattern bargaining agreement.”
A Chevron spokesperson told The Epoch Times: “Currently in California, six of the nine USW-represented locations have ratified agreements with the same pattern wages and terms, and this includes two Bay Area employers (P66 and Martinez Refining).
“Chevron Richmond continues to deliver key energy products to our Bay Area customers thanks to our well-trained workforce. We are focusing on safe and reliable operations and are looking forward to continuing discussions with USW so that all our colleagues can return to work.”
USW Local 5 representative B.K. White, a refinery operator who has worked for the company for 29 years, claimed that Chevron had failed to address key issues such as worker fatigue and a lack of staffing, which he said could lead to safety issues.
“If we had more people and could get a better pay rate, maybe our members wouldn’t feel obligated to come in and work as many as 70 hours a week to make ends meet. We don’t believe that is safe,” White said.
White said that Chevron had offered a 2.5 percent pay increase, but the union had asked for 5 percent to offset soaring inflation levels which reached another record high in February with the Consumer Price Index reporting a 7.9 percent year-over-year increase, the largest annual increase in 40 years.
“It’s rough for the blue-collar worker in the Bay Area, and we asked for a 5 percent bump to help us out a little bit with our medical at Kaiser, which went up 23 percent last year,” White said, adding that Chevron had acted swiftly to bring in roughly 100 replacement workers who he said are not trained to run the plants.
“This is at the detriment of the city of Richmond and the environment,” he said.
Chevron spokesperson Tyler Kruzich said in a statement that the company had bought in qualified replacements to cover the strike, starting with Sunday’s night shift.
Those employees, Kruzich said, “have satisfied the necessary requirements to perform their designated jobs (including receiving on-the-job training from experienced employees/operators) so that the refinery will be operated safely and in compliance with all applicable laws.”
The Epoch Times has contacted Chevron for comment.
The strike comes as gasoline prices have surged across the United States, having been further exacerbated by the Russia–Ukraine conflict after steadily rising since 2021.
The national average gas price was $4.237 per gallon as of March 23, according to data from automotive group AAA. In February, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the national average was $3.53 and in March 2021, it was $2.88.
California has seen the highest increase, with gas prices averaging more than $5.875 per gallon of regular unleaded as of March 23, according to AAA.
Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said he was working with lawmakers to give money back to taxpayers to offset the sky-high gas prices in the state.
Mike Smith, chair of the USW’s National Oil Bargaining Program said it was “disappointing that Chevron would walk away from the table instead of bargaining in good faith with its dedicated workforce,” noting that USW members had continued to report for work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the nation’s energy needs were met.
“They deserve a fair contract that reflects their sacrifice,” Smith said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times