Husky Lima, Ohio, refinery workers begin strike

HOUSTON Fri May 25, 2012 2:44pm EDT

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - Hourly workers began a strike on Friday at Husky Energy's 155,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Lima, Ohio, but the refinery remained in production with managers taking over operation of the plant, the company and the union said.

Gasoline in the Group Three market moved up a penny on Friday morning to a discount of 8.25 cents under June NYMEX RBOB gasoline, but it was unclear if the strike was the cause of the increase.

The strike by members of United Steelworkers union (USW) local 624 began after last-minute negotiations for a new three-year contract failed to reach agreement, said Lynne Hancock, USW spokeswoman.

"It's an unfair labor practices strike," Hancock said. "It means management has failed to bargain in good faith."

The union has filed 23 charges against Husky with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, she said.

A spokesman for Calgary-based Husky said the company worked until the final hour to reach an agreement.

"We have consistently negotiated in good faith," said Husky spokesman Mel Duvall. "A mediator supported the negotiation process and while we presented several offers in the hours leading up to the strike, the union chose not to extend negotiations."

Duvall also said the company's offers were equal to or exceeded "the national pattern of accepted agreements at refineries."

The previous three-year contract between the USW and Husky expired on April 14, Hancock said, but had been extended to facilitate negotiations.

"This strike is over local issues," she said. "It's definitely not about wages."

The USW reached agreement at the end of January with U.S. refiners on a national pattern contract, which is combined with agreements between local unions and refinery managers to make final contracts at individual refineries.

Among the issues the national agreement covers are wages, other compensation and safety standards. The current national pattern would provide an 8.5 percent increase in base pay of $33.85 an hour over three years.

Hancock declined to discuss the specific disagreements that led to the Lima strike.

Duvall said Husky hoped to resolve the dispute with the USW.

"We remain focused on achieving a positive outcome that will fairly reward workers and enhance the refinery's competitiveness in order to ensure its viability today and for the future," he said.

Duvall said the managers who took over operation of the refinery on Friday were "experienced technical staff and former front-line workers who have moved into management positions. All replacement workers are trained to the same requirements and occupational safety standards as the regular workforce."

(Additional reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Bernadette Baum, David Gregorio and Phil Berlowitz)

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