During the last round of contract negotiations in 2015, workers at the BP Whiting Refinery went on strike for more than three months, huddling around burn barrels outside the gates in the often bitter cold off Lake Michigan, to secure a new deal that satisfied their safety concerns.
This time around, collective bargaining went much smoother.
A majority of United Steelworkers union-represented oil workers at the refinery on the Lake Michigan lakeshore in Whiting voted to ratify a new contract that reportedly includes a boost in pay over three years. The ratification vote at USW Local 7-1 in Whiting took place on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Local 7-1 workers at the BP Whiting refinery overwhelmingly ratified their contract, and the Local 7-1 BP Whiting plant guards also overwhelmingly ratified their contract," USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said. "The local agreement contains the national pattern and addresses issues pertaining to the site."
The new contract includes 3.5 percent raises this year and next, and a 4 percent raise in 2021.
The USW also sought more workplace safety guarantees that included union input on job training at all worksites, more health and safety representatives, and site-specific fatigue risk management systems. Union negotiators also pushed for "no retrogression" clauses to preserve the contracts it negotiated in case there's more consolidation in the industry and refineries change ownership.
"Workers will receive better wages and have greater spending power, which helps local businesses and increases tax revenue for schools," Hancock said. "The new agreement also addresses worker participation in health and safety, fatigue management, routine daily maintenance and training and curriculum development."
The new deal covers more than 30,000 oil workers at more than 220 refineries and other petrochemical operations nationwide. About 1,800 oil workers work at the BP Whiting Refinery, the majority of whom are hourly workers represented by the USW.