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Strikers stay on picket lines

Contract talks start up again

 

CATLETTSBURG, Ky., — Striking United Steelworkers Union members are keeping the picket lines manned at the Marathon Catlettsburg refinery as a national work stoppage reaches Day 11.

“Everybody is doing pretty good, under the circumstances,” Dave Martin, vice president of USW Local 8-719, said. “We are still getting people signed up with health care.”

When USW workers went out on a nationwide strike following a breakdown in talks between the international union and Shell, they lost not just a pay check, but also health care coverage.

“When we don’t get paid, we don’t get health insurance,” Martin said. “It is not like we are at a party.”

That is why union workers have spent the past two weeks applying for emergency health insurance at the union hall, along with pay from the USW strike fund.

There are 429 workers at the local refinery who joined the walkout on Feb. 1, the first national strike since 1980 and the first one at the Catlettsburg plant since 1996.

Now strikers walk the picket line off U.S. 23 24/7 with at least 11 workers out per shift.

“And everybody who wants to go goes out,” Martin said. “We keep the burn barrels going.”

Outsourcing of jobs and what the USW calls unsafe work conditions are the major issues of the strike.

“This is not about the wages,” Martin said. “It is about staffing levels and safety in the refinery and things happening over the last years. We have had locals turn down 5 percent raises every year, just because we are serious about these issues. It is not about the wages.”

A Marathon spokesman said the company has no new statement to make about the strike.

“Marathon Petroleum Company’s Catlettsburg, Ky., and Galveston Bay, Texas, refineries are among those chosen by the USW for work stoppages,” Chuck Rice of Marathon, said. “MPC has plans in place to ensure the continued safe operation of its facilities and stands ready to continue negotiations at the local level.”