Workers at Chevron’s Richmond, California refinery are continuing their strike which began on March 21. The workers, organized in the United Steelworkers Union Local 5, have a number of demands. These include greater wage increases to keep up with inflation and the cost of living in the Bay Area, as well as greater staffing, which would help with fatigue and safety concerns, given that workers often have to work long hours (sometimes as much as 60-70 hours per week with 12-hour shifts).
Chevron has not budged in the negotiation. They are refusing to concede to the workers’ demands, claiming that they have given their last, best, and final offer. But by talking to workers on the picket line in Richmond, you can see Chevron’s hypocrisy. They are refusing to pay more or increase staffing, yet are spending tons of money in order to break the strike.
According to Chevron workers on the picket line, instead of fulfilling their demands, Chevron is paying a premium to fly in and lodge non-union Chevron workers (such as refinery operators from Chevron’s non-unionized Pascagoula, Mississippi refinery) and other replacement workers from around the world to assist Chevron Richmond’s managers and engineers in running the refinery.
In addition to this, some of the workers say that with managers and replacement workers running the plant, only a portion of the normal output of the plant’s approximately 250,000 barrels of output per day are being produced. Chevron’s Richmond facility provides most of the jet fuel used at Bay Area airports such as SFO. Since Chevron is not able to produce enough jet fuel to meet their contractual obligations to airports, they are likely being forced to buy thousands of gallons of jet fuel each week from other refineries at extortionate prices to meet their supply contracts. This means to try and break the strike, Chevron is comfortable “getting ripped off” in the short term by buying jet fuel from other oil companies, instead of just paying their workers a fairer wage.
Finally, a trip to the picket line at the refinery is met with a heavy presence from Richmond’s police department. Workers at the refinery have said it appears that a section of Richmond PD’s officers have been reassigned to form a rotating 24/7 security presence outside the gate of the refinery. These officers are likely receiving some form of overtime and/or hazard pay on top of their normal salaries, which Chevron has been paying since the strike began in March.
Chevron’s hypocrisy is on clear display as they spend all this money to make the point to workers and USW Local 5 that they will not be dictated to on questions of wages and working conditions. Unfortunately, they know the Chevron Richmond strike remains isolated at this point, as other oil companies recently came to a national agreement in February 2022 with the United Steel Workers union representing refinery operators across the country. Important to Chevron’s leverage at this point is that Chevron’s other refinery in El Segundo, California also narrowly averted a strike in late March, and has thus been able to maintain production to help offset the impact of Richmond’s strike.
Chevron’s bosses know this contract fight is important, because if they concede to the workers in Richmond, other workers in the industry and beyond could be inspired to fight back, seeing that these workers fought and won. Chevron is willing to take these measures to prevent this, trying to demoralize workers by showing them that going on strike will ultimately be ineffective. As of now, it remains to be seen what will happen. And it is also evident that Chevron has immense resources.
Going forward, it is clear that they and many other workers will need to carry out similar struggles. This shows that to be successful and match and defeat the firepower that bosses like Chevron have, we need to broaden our fights to include workers beyond our immediate region and industry.