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Chevron Richmond Refinery Workers OK Deal to End First Strike in Over 40 Years

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An older white man with glasses and a trim white mustache, wearing a navy baseball hat and navy shirt, shouts into a red-and-white bullhorn he holds in his right hand, his left hand pointing to the sky. To his right, farther from the camera, stands a woman in a white tank top and jeans. To the man's left and behind him, out of focus, is a group of people holding signs. One of them says "Fair Contract" and the other says "Strike against Chevron." It appears to be evening time, and behind everyone is what appears to be a black, iron, security fence and a low, white building.
United Steelworkers union member Mike Zielinski speaks on a megaphone during a strike by Chevron employees outside Gate 14 at the Richmond refinery on April 7, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of unionized workers who've been striking against Chevron's Richmond refinery for more than two months have voted to ratify a contract with the energy giant, ending a bitter labor dispute at one of the West Coast's major oil-refining facilities.

Results out Saturday afternoon show the new four-year contract was approved by a slim majority of the United Steelworkers Local 5 members who work at the plant, according to B.K. White, vice president of the union chapter.

"I'm proud of the women and men who held the line for over two months. They showed unbelievable solidarity and resolve as they exercised their right to strike in an attempt to improve their and their co-workers' lives," White said.

Chevron representatives say the striking employees will return to work in the coming weeks.

USW Local 5 and Chevron have yet to release details of the contract, but it looks like union members may not have gained much from the walkout.

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Before the strike, Chevron offered to give the Richmond workers a $2,500 bonus on top of what was agreed to between the national union and a group of oil companies in February, in what's known as a "pattern." The contract the local workers approved Saturday included a $1,500 bonus, according to White.

He said the two-months-long strike began to wear on his members, who'd missed out on several paychecks.

On March 19 the local union chapter announced their 500 members would walk off the job after the two sides could not agree on a variety of sticking points that included worker safety improvements, pay and benefits.

The following evening Chevron escorted the USW Local 5 workers from the facility. Hours after that, the pickets went up. Community members, activists and some members of the Richmond City Council, who've long criticized the refinery over its environmental record, joined the striking workers on the picket lines.

Steam rises from Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California.
Chevron's Richmond refinery viewed from Point Richmond in January 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Since then, refinery managers and contract workers have been running the plant themselves. The two sides talked at the negotiating table only a few times during the strike, trading and rejecting several offers.

But on Thursday afternoon they reached a tentative contract that's now been ratified.

Richmond City Councilmember Claudia Jimenez said it shouldn't have taken so long, or been such a hard fight, to reach a deal.

"I am glad that the workers got a contract," Jimenez said. "However, it should not have taken workers striking to get the benefits they were asking for. Chevron fought the workers every step of the way."

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Chevron's decision to have managers and non-USW Local 5 workers operate the refinery led to concerns among activists and some elected officials that having inexperienced employees run the facility would lead to an accident.

Since the strike began, there have been nine flaring operations at the refinery, according to the Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Programs. That typically happens when there's a malfunction at the facility, and the facility needs to send gases to its flares to relieve pressure, a process the industry and regulators say is needed for safety.

Flaring operations often involve flames and smoke coming from the refinery's stacks, and releases of toxic chemicals.

"I'm glad the United Steelworkers have reached an agreement with Chevron to bring back experienced workers and improve safety at the refinery," said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia.

Chevron officials called police to respond to picketers dozens of times during the strike. The company also arranged financial agreements with the Richmond and San Pablo police departments in response to the strike.

In late April, Chevron announced a profit of $6.3 billion for the first three months of this year, more than quadruple its earnings for the same period a year ago.

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