The oil industry is the most powerful industrial sector in the world. It influences elections, public policy and U.S. affairs overseas.
Negotiating with oil giants requires unions to mobilize and exercise their solidarity. That’s why USW oil locals and units are kicking off their bargaining preparation this summer and fall with one-day kickoff sessions.
Locals are encouraged to send as many members as possible to these sessions so they can have local union activists in the plants during local bargaining.
Each kickoff session covers the National Oil Bargaining Program (NOBP) and what’s expected in this round of bargaining; the communication tools available to local unions; the communication channels that can be accessed during national bargaining; company contingency plans and what to look for; basic strike preparation; how to build alliances with local and global allies; and solidarity actions to support bargaining.
Trevor Turner from Local 241 at the HollyFrontier refinery in El Dorado, Kan., and Mike Adams from Local 12-477 at Suncor’s Commerce City, Colo., refinery attended Building Power kickoff sessions for the first time and are acting on what they learned.
Both locals set up a Communication & Action Team (CAT) that involves direct contact with members and person-to-person communication. Information flows down from the bargaining committee to the CAT coordinator to the CAT shift leaders to the CAT members and eventually all members. It also flows up from the members through the chain to the bargaining committee.
“I think that CAT will be the most beneficial method for us to get communications out as needed,” Turner said.
He plans to test the communication network, and said he is excited about using text messages to get information out to the local as well.
“We can have our own local text number so we can text messages to our group only,” Turner said. “I have a good 95 percent of the membership’s cell numbers.”
He also collected members’ personal email addresses and is adding them to the local’s database so information can be sent via email as well.
Turner said the local plans to write a daily update on local and national bargaining and have CAT distribute it. When he and other workmen’s committee members return from the NOBP conference, they will send an update so members understand the oil bargaining policy arising from the meetings and have an idea what to expect.
“It’s got to be a two-way street to get buy-in from the membership, so we will be getting feedback from them as well throughout negotiations,” Turner said.
The local also is engaging in community outreach activities, such as buying school supplies for teachers.
“There are all kinds of things schools do not supply because of their budgets,” Turner said. “A large number of guys in the refinery have wives who are teachers. We’ve had some teachers help out with what to buy. We’ve been buying mass quantities of supplies, and teachers can pick out items they need at the hall.”
Involving More Members
“We built a CAT team during the kickoff session,” said Adams. “We sent out the first surveys two weeks ago to the bargaining committee members, and they will get it to the CAT in their areas.
“It helps members feel like they’re being heard. We’re having them deliver their completed surveys to bargaining committee members,” he added.
The first survey asked members their top five issues, and the second survey will replicate the first one and be sent out this fall.
“Communication can always be better. That’s why we are doing the survey a couple of times. We are contacting 100 percent of the oil workers at our refinery,” Adams said. “We don’t want them to hear they have a voice; we want them to know they have a voice.”
He said the local tried CAT teams in the past, but they fizzled out. “That’s why we are trying to set one up now instead of the second week of December, so we can work the bugs out before we get to the point where it’s critical.”
Adams emphasized that the local’s message must stay accurate and consistent from the bargaining committee to the last person hearing it through CAT.
“A smaller group delivering the message keeps it consistent and accurate,” he said.
He also plans to test the local’s CAT by using it to pass out stacks of cards with the text number written on them. He will text a message to see if it goes only to the oil workers in this amalgamated local.
“We really want to use as many tools as we can this time to communicate,” he said.
The local has a group Facebook page with 12 administrators to monitor negative remarks and false information.
“The members seem to like it that they’ll be more engaged this time,” Adams said. “That’s why I am encouraged and excited to work on communication.”