WHITING — Oil workers at the BP Whiting Refinery overwhelmingly voted to approve a new four-year deal with a 12% pay increase and no concession on the hotly contested issue of providing months of advance notice if workers intend to go on strike.

United Steelworkers union-represented workers at the refinery voted by an 85% to 15% margin to accept the deal, USW Local 7-1 President Eric Schultz said. 

The new contract sets pay, benefits and working conditions for workers at the sprawling refinery along the Lake Michigan lakeshore in Whiting, Hammond and East Chicago, as well as BP pipeline workers scattered across the Midwest. About 1,700 full-time employees work at the refinery, the largest inland refinery in the Midwest that supplies gas to seven states and jet fuel via direct pipeline to Chicago’s airports.

The new contract raises workers pay by 2.5% this year, 3% in 2023, 3% in 2024 and 3.5% in 2025. Workers get a ratification bonus of $2,500.

BP agreed to maintain its current commitments to health care benefits for employees and will contribute 80% toward the premium. The London-based energy giant agreed to provide a year’s worth of COBRA health benefits to the families of any workers killed on the job, to provide any laid-off workers severance based on their hourly wage rate for each year they worked with the company and to ensure any unit with 150 union members has a USW Health and Safety representative.

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The oil company, which operates three refineries in the United States, had originally proposed the union give 120 days notice and train replacement workers if it were to go on strike. The union rejected that proposal, fearing giving up its leverage. 

Union members had been ready to go on strike as they did in 2015. They stockpiled wood outside the USW 7-1 hall in Whiting and arranged for food trucks.

But the company, which also has refineries in Toledo and Washington state, backed off that concession that the union give four months of advance warning before a strike that would disrupt operations at its largest and more productive refinery. Schultz credited workers’ solidarity and readiness to go on strike if necessary. 

Most union locals across the country have been ratifying the contract based on a pattern agreement the USW negotiated with Marathon.

USW 7-1 is still negotiating a separate agreement for the security guards at the refinery, which is BP’s largest in the world and the biggest inland refinery in the Midwest.

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