WHITING | For the first time in more than three months, it's been quiet at the intersection of Indianapolis Boulevard and 126th Street outside the BP Whiting Refinery.

Still. Almost eerie.

The giant rat is gone. So is the burn barrel and the stack of firewood that fed it. The tents and the drum kit and the Port-o-Potty are nowhere to be seen.

Picketing workers are no longer hoisting signs or shaking huge foam Hulk Hands. They're no longer pumping their fists to elicit honks of solidarity from the endless river of passing cars.

Horns blared almost non-stop for the 93-day strike at the Midwest's largest refinery, which provides gas to seven states and more than 5 percent of the nation's asphalt. There's no more honking now.

A sidewalk that once seemed like the center of the universe — a hub of a national struggle over safety and staffing in the oil industry — is just a stretch of sidewalk again. There's no trace of the prolonged strike that finally ended last Monday, when refinery workers with United Steelworkers Local 7-1 voted overwhelmingly to approve a new four-year contract.

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The 1,100 USW-represented workers at the refinery walked off the job on Feb. 8 and remained on strike for 93 days, making it the longest strike in the history of the refinery, which industrialist John D. Rockerfeller established in 1889 to make kerosene for lamps at a time when there were no cars on the roads.

Tony Borgo, a library assistant at the Whiting Public Library, dug up a March 31, 1980 Times newspaper article that said the 1980 strike lasted 82 days. 

"The strike was the longest in Whiting's refinery history surpassing the previous strike record of 25 days in 1952," the Times reported 35 years ago.

The 2015 strike was the longest in the refinery's history, but it wasn't necessarily the biggest. 

"In 1959 a strike at the Standard Oil plant in Whiting involved a walkout of 5,000 employees compared to far less in 2015," Indiana University Northwest Professor Emeritus of History James Lane said. "I found mention of a strike at the Whiting plant as far back as 1906."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.