(Adds company comment, paragraph 6)
By Erwin Seba
HOUSTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) – About 100 United Steelworkers union (USW) members rallied on Wednesday outside a LyondellBasell Industries Houston oil refinery to protest the lack of negotiations there on a new local contract.
Talks on a national oil-workers agreement are due to begin next month with Shell Oil Co, the U.S. unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, as the lead industry negotiator. Existing union contracts expire on Feb. 1.
Local groups are beginning discussions, however, on individual plant issues ahead of the national talks. At least four other plants also have begun exchanging proposals on local issues, according to the USW.
LyondellBasell officials did not begin talks on union local issues as planned on Monday, Marcos Velez, a USW International representative, said in an interview on Wednesday. The existing contract covering the plant’s 485 union workers expires on Feb. 1.
“They called and said they couldn’t make it (Monday) and would call about meeting Tuesday,” Velez said. “It’s Wednesday and we’re still waiting to meet.”
“LyondellBasell and United Steelworkers Local 13-227 are in the process of entering good faith negotiations with the shared interest of reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable for the company and our represented employees,” said company spokeswoman Chevalier Gray.
The USW group carried signs that read: “Coming soon” and showed silhouettes of people picketing. Union-represented Lyondell workers were off their jobs for 3-1/2 months during a strike and contract talks in 2015.
The national agreement, which covers wages, job security, health and safety issues, will be combined with terms of the agreement on local issues at each plant to complete the contract for each location.
Velez said Lyondell also canceled meetings during the 2015 strike.
“It’s not uncommon, but it’s unacceptable,” he said.
During the rally, USW activist Joshua Lege used a bullhorn to speak to the workers, many of them wearing blue work coveralls as they lined up in front of the refinery.
“They say they want peace and professionalism, but they want war,” Lege said.
The national contract covers about 30,000 refinery and chemical plant workers. In September, union officials agreed to seek 8 percent annual wage increases and a three-year contract in the coming negotiations.
The contract would cover plants operated by Shell, Marathon Petroleum Corp BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp, Valero Energy Corp, and smaller refiners such as HollyFrontier Corp and Delek US Holdings Inc. (Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)