On Sunday, when 3,800 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) walked off their jobs at 9 oil refineries throughout the country (including two in my home state of California), it marked the first nationwide oil refinery strike in more than three many years, going all the way in which back to 1980. Congratulations, USW. With this strike, organized labor is finally showing signs of life.

Though business analysts have identified that gasoline costs were already edging upwards several days earlier than the strike, everybody goes to blame the union for any rise in gas pump prices. And why would not they? Unions make wonderful scapegoats. Indeed, with the strike only a couple of days outdated, count on the oil firms to grab this opportunity to raise costs disproportionately.

However the information tell a unique story. Wanting again to 1980, the 12 months of the final national refinery strike, Phil Flynn, an analyst with the value Futures Group, noted that although that strike lasted a whopping three months, it had little impact on gasoline costs. According to Flynn, it raised costs only “a few pennies at best.”

The USW referred to as this current strike after rejecting 5 substandard proposals (the union described the ultimate provide as “insulting”) from Royal Dutch Shell, the corporate acting as lead negotiator for the oil trade. In a strategic move, the USW’s walkout targeted particular amenities. Amongst them are the Tesoro Company, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Petroleum, and LyondellBasell Industries, amenities stretching from California to Texas and Kentucky.

Conscious that the oil companies and media will attempt to portray these union members as greedy bastards, USW spokeswoman Lynne Hancock made it clear that, whereas hourly wages are a part of these negotiations (as they’ve been in just about every contract negotiation in every business in historical past), they are not central to the bargain. This shutdown is not about hourly pay. “Wages are usually not a part of this walkout by any means,” she mentioned.

Among the issues central to the strike are obligatory worker contributions to medical insurance coverage, continued reductions in headcount (resulting in lower staffing, longer hours and more fatigue), and the corporate’s refusal to take severely the union’s request that the membership be skilled for jobs that are increasingly being carried out by outside contractors.

This outdoors-contractor subject has turn out to be an enormous deal to unions all over the place. And when it reaches essential mass, it should become an enormous deal to non-union employees as properly. Based mostly on what’s occurring in the market, it’s the dream of each company to alter the status of their workers from “worker” to “impartial contractor,” thereby allowing them to not should pay for insurance coverage, pensions, vacations or holidays.

Once your staff turn into categorized as contractors, all you have to do is give them money for doing the job. Write them a paycheck and be accomplished with it. And since there’s virtually at all times going to be a surplus of workers, market forces are going to continually drive wages downward.

But even on those occasions when employers are required to pay top greenback for employees, the financial savings in benefits and administrative costs goes to be enormous, which is why the transfer toward “de-categorizing” workers has grow to be so widespread.

Irrespective of how this USW strike turns out, one hopes it sheds gentle on what’s change into a dangerous development. The notion of loyal workers retiring after working 30 years for the same company is an anachronism. Companies don’t need loyalty. They need flexibility. And what they cannot get from contractors they’ll try and get from robots. It ain’t a pretty picture.

David Macaray, a playwright and writer (It’s Never Been Straightforward: Essays on Trendy Labor [Second Edition]), is a former union rep. He may be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com.

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