The rights and duties of employees, employers and labor unions in the United States are provided under the United States labor law. The labor law includes laws governing employment (employment law), labor standards, occupational safety, and other collective labor rights. Richard & Lechner (2014) explains that both Federal Laws and state laws are meant to protect workers from employment discrimination and exploitation. Mettler & Suzanne (2013) explains that Federal laws (such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor relations Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964) often override most state and local laws.
The Labor Dispute Situation
The U.S refinery strike in February 2015 is the major labor dispute in recent past, in which the workers were demanding new contracts, improved wages and safety at the nation’s largest oil refinery. The United Steel Workers union (USW) strike was the largest labor dispute in the refining sector since the 1980s and affected 15 plants including 12 refineries. The strike which affected companies controlling the country’s 20% processing capacity forced most of these companies to hire temporary trained workers to avert oil supply crisis.
In a press statement the USW International President Leo Gerard accused the industry for failing to address the worker’s welfare and safety in a meaningful way. He added that the lack of goodwill had left the union with no option but to call for countrywide work stoppage.
Steps taken to address the Situation
Following weeks of demonstrations (by thousands of workers, retirees and supporters) representatives from affected companies agreed to meet the United Steelworkers union representatives to resolve the dispute. The negotiations with the representatives of the various affected companies involved the bargaining committee representing the interests of thousands workers drawn from diverse areas of technical production, mantainence, office and plant protection units.
Healthcare costs, terms of contracts, vacation pay, wages, accidental benefits and other allowances were some of the major sticking issues that the workers union wanted addressed. The union was also opposed to the proposal by some industry players to introduce concessions aimed to reduce employee healthcare premiums for active employees, as well as a high-deductible health plan for new employees which was regarded by the workers union as unacceptable.
Results of the Steps Taken
For most companies in the industry, a tentative agreement was reached with the companies in which workers were offered a new three-year contract to keep them on the job. The local unions are yet to review and accept the terms of agreement before it can be approved at the national level by USW union. However, following this tentative agreement, both the workers and the USW union leaders were relieved and worked resumed at the local companies a few days after the agreement between the two parties.
Benefits and Lessons Learned
For the other oil refining companies like Shell, Valero, Exxon and Chevron Philips, the demand by workers for better wages and safer working environment were met and would be implemented systematically at the national level. Sources indicate that the wages for those working in these companies was agreed to be 2.5 percent the first year and in the next two years to rise to 3 percent.
Feinman & Melvin (2015) explains that the labor dispute involving USW and US Steel shows why unions are necessary. Corrada & Camron (2015) argues that these battles between workers’ union and industry players also highlighted the significance of the National Labor Relations Act and the importance of collective bargaining.
Corrada, R., & Camron, A. (2015). Labor Law in Contemporary Workplace. Journal of National Workers Association, 101 (1), 82.
Feinman, J., & Melvin, H. (2015). The Development of Employment at Will. American Journal of Legal History, 20(2), 118.
Mettler, C., & Suzanne, B. (2013). Federalism, Gender and Fair Labor Standards Act. Journal of Policy Analysis, 101(1), 103.
Richard, P., & Lechner, E. (2014).Labor Relations: Striking a Balance. Labor Law Practitioners Journal, 46(2), 70.