March 11, 2015 / 10:44 PM / 4 years ago

Union signals possible proposal coming to end U.S. refinery strike

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The United Steelworkers union (USW) signaled that lead refinery owner representative Shell Oil Co may offer a possible settlement in the coming days that could end the largest refinery strike in 35 years.

In a message issued on Wednesday night, the union said it was assembling its policy committee, which represents the rank and file, to review proposals from industry during contract talks.

“Bargaining is continuing,” the USW said in the message. “Policy committee traveling to Houston to review any proposals. Time for industry to bargain fair and safe deal.”

The strike by 6,550 USW members at 15 plants, including 12 refineries accounting for one-fifth of U.S. crude oil processing capacity, finished its 39th day on Wednesday.

A Shell spokesman said the two sides were continuing face-to-face discussions into Wednesday night.

“Shell and the USW continue to talk,” said Shell spokesman Cameron Yost “We remain committed to negotiating a mutually satisfactory agreement.”

The national agreement being negotiated by the USW and Shell Oil, the U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, will set the floor on pay and benefits as well as set standards on some safety issues.

That agreement must be combined with agreements on local issues at each refinery and chemical plant and then voted on by the membership of the local union for the contract to take effect at each site.

Most refineries where the contracts expired along with the previous national agreement on Feb. 1 are operating on rolling 24-hour contract extensions, which will remain in place until a contract is adopted.

At the striking plants, it would likely take about two weeks for approval of a contract and the return of workers to their jobs.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis

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