United Steelworkers Local 7-1 has alerted the BP Whiting Refinery it has authorized its members to strike as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday when the current three-year contract is expected to expire, The Times has learned.

Negotiations are continuing between United Steelworkers and oil refining companies across the United States to forge a new national bargaining agreement, multiple union officials said Monday.

However, Lynne Hancock, spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers international, declined to provide details on the progress being made on a new agreement. The current three-year deal covers 30,000 workers.

Bob Lofton, USW District 7 staff representative, and Michael Boyd, president of USW Local 7-1, declined to provide details. Boyd said both sides are working to reach an agreement before the contract expires.

Locally, there are more than 1,200 USW-represented workers at the BP Whiting Refinery and at operators of local oil pipelines and terminals.

Shell Oil Co. is the lead negotiating company, and a company spokeswoman said in a statement that "Shell remains optimistic that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be negotiated with the USW."

Negotiations are done both at the local and national levels.

Hancock said process safety is still the union's top concern because 18 refinery workers have died since agreeing on the current three-year contract. Although the USW didn't represent any of the workers who died in the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig tragedy in April 2010, the accident epitomized "the lack of enough attention to safety within the industry."

"We don’t want to have to attend any more funerals for fallen workers," Hancock said.

The union represents 30,000 workers at U.S. production, refining, marketing, transportation, pipeline and petrochemical facilities.

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