Odds of strike rise as Bayway workers, Phillips 66 hit impasse

(Reuters) - Negotiations between Phillips 66 and the Teamsters Local 877, which represents workers at its 285,000-barrel-per-day Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, have broken down, raising the possibility of a work stoppage at the Northeast’s largest operational refinery.

Workers voted against a three-year contract earlier this month, which included provisions such as expanding the tasks and responsibilities of refinery operators.

Operations have continued under a 24-hour rolling contract that has been in place since the previous contract expired on Sept. 30. The contract covers represented, hourly employees at the refinery and the Linden Terminal, according to Phillips 66.

No new date for a contract vote has been set.

“The company addressed the concerns presented by the Union’s bargaining team; however, late on Thursday Oct. 17, the Union’s bargaining representatives notified the company that the Union was breaking off discussions,” a Phillips 66 spokeswoman said in a statement.

The union has not yet proposed or requested additional dates to resume bargaining, the statement added.

The Bayway refinery is the largest in operation in the U.S. Northeast following a fire and series of explosions in June that led to the closure of the 335,000-bpd Philadelphia Energy Solutions facility.

Refining capacity in the region has declined over the years as much of the nation’s refining output now comes out of the U.S. Gulf Coast and Midwest.

Phillips 66 will not back off the new provisions on expanding operators’ responsibilities, which the union deems a safety issue, according to a source familiar with negotiations.

A union source said any contract proposed by Phillips 66 with those provisions would almost certainly get voted down by the union, however.

“We understand the company’s need of flexibility but their proposals will eliminate the process unit experts we currently have and make our members jack-of-all-trades,” the union source said.

The union represents about 500 operators at the Bayway facility, which employs around 800 people, according to the company’s website.

If an agreement is not reached, the unionized refinery workers could be subject to a lockout, leaving the company without access to certain union-trained workers who handle emergency response systems.

However, Phillips 66 said in a statement that they “maintain qualified emergency response personnel who are not represented by the Teamsters Local 877.”

Reporting by Laura Sanicola; Editing by Tom Brown and Rosalba O’Brien