(Updates with Shell statement, paragraphs 4,5)
HOUSTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - With just a week of bargaining left until the national contract for U.S. refinery workers expires, the United Steelworkers union (USW) said talks with oil company representatives for a new pact were going slow, according to a Twitter message sent to members.
“It’s time for the industry to get serious about addressing issues that matter to USW members,” the message said. “Be ready to stand up and fight back!”
The USW rejected the first industry proposal on Friday, calling it “inadequate and offensive,” according to a message sent to members.
A spokesman for Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the lead negotiator for U.S. refinery owners, confirmed that an initial offer had been made to the USW, but declined to discuss details.
“We remain optimistic that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be negotiated with the USW,” said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.
Negotiations in 2012 saw at least five contract proposals rejected before an agreement was reached just hours before contract expiry.
The Steelworkers are seeking annual pay raises double those of the last agreement. The union also wants work given to non-union contractors to go to USW members, a tighter policy to prevent fatigue and reductions in members’ out-of-pocket payments for health care. [See FACTBOX ID:L1N0V100E]
The current agreement expires at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 1.
The union and refiners have made preparations for a possible strike in February. The last nationwide refinery workers’ strike was in 1980 and lasted for three months.
A USW spokeswoman said the union’s message should be clear to the oil companies.
“The workers just want the companies to take the negotiations seriously and to know that the workers mean business,” said USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock. (Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by David Gregorio and Clarence Fernandez)