Disgruntled Lyondell employees try to initiate fresh start with rally


Citizen staff June 19, 2003

More than 50 employees held signs declaring their desire for justice at Lyondell Citgo Refinery yesterday.

Glistening with sweat in 90 degree weather, over 50 employees of Lyondell-Citgo Refinery LP stood outside the plant yesterday holding signs spelling "No Justice Here" in large red letters. "What do we want? JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!" they chanted. The Lyondell-Citgo refinery was the sixth stop for the Justice Bus, an annual Harris County AFL-CIO venture that either recognizes companies for their cooperation with unions or calls them down for hindering employee-employer relationships. The bus was a Coach USA charter bus with signs taped on the sides reading "No More Business as Usual" and "Voices at Work: Freedom to Choose a Union."Gene Oliver, an LCR employee and chairman of the PACE union workforce committee, attributed Lyondell-Citgo's "No Justice Here Award" to the management's reinterpretation of union contracts.

"They are making these unilateral changes without ever wanting to talk to us and negotiate with us," Oliver said.

Employees present cited changes in overtime payment plans, termination of people taking leaves of absence and requiring hourly workers to carry pagers in off-duty hours as a few of the reasons for their rally outside the plant's main gate.

"Originally, they said the pagers were for emergencies, but we get called out to the plant regularly," Oliver said. "Relations are at an all-time low. No one really wants to work more hours than they have to."

Leaders of the rally used a megaphone to call on management to come outside and accept the award as a gesture of a fresh start, but no one did.

David Harpole, LCR spokesman, said the company did not view the rally as a tool for communication.

"We observed a publicity stunt taking place in front of our facility, and we elected not to participate in it," Harpole said.

Other than the PACE union indicating it was going to express its displeasure to make a point, Lyondell-Citgo had no previous awareness of the Justice Bus, Harpole added.

Insisting there are a number of opportunities for dialogue between management and employees, particularly union heads, at any time, Harpole pointed to a "defined process" in the union contract used to resolve differences.

Steps taken in the last two years have significantly changed how the plant operates its business, but it has made the plant safer and more competitive, Harpole said.

"No one has been exempt from these changes," he said. "Management and all of our salary employees have had to adjust to and participate in these changes"

The most recent change Lyondell-Citgo announced was the elimination of 60 salary-paid jobs, a process that began in early May and is supposed to be completed by this month's end.

The Justice Bus visited seven companies and one U.S. representative yesterday. No one received a positive award this year, because no unions made nominations for such an award.

Companies receiving the negative awards did so because Harris County AFL-CIO deemed them either poor contract negotiators or unwilling to bargain a contract. A union of teachers in Fort Bend claimed U.S. Representative Tom Delay, R-Sugarland, earned his award for supporting a Social Security bill that hurts teachers' retirement benefits.

Financial struggles caused by a faltering economy were a major reason for all negative and no positive company awards, said Richard Shaw, Harris County AFL-CIO Council secretary/treasurer.

"Bargaining is getting tougher because the economy is getting tougher," Shaw said. "When times get tough, you get friction between employers and employees."

Shaw added that the frustrations vented in front of the LCR plant came down to the issue of the employees desiring respect.

PACE Local 4227 represents 99 percent of Lyondell-Citgo's hourly workforce and 560 workers total.

Other than Lyondell-Citgo, the Harris County Justice Bus visited ExxonMobil, West Aviation College, Cintas, Milam and Painters, Baker Concrete Construction, Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift and Imperial Sugar.

Keri Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]


 Copyright 2003 HCN / Citizen

  June 19, 2003, 12:12AM

Wal-Mart must negotiate with union, judge orders

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE -- A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge has ordered Wal-Mart to recognize a meat-cutters union that formed at the company's Jacksonville store three years ago, union leaders say.

After seven of the 10 butchers at the store voted in 2000 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, Wal-Mart announced it was closing its meat-cutting departments in favor of prepackaged meat.

The butchers' vote marked the only union success at a Wal-Mart.

In recent months, organized labor has escalated efforts to unionize Wal-Mart stores after five years of failing to so much as dent the armor of the nation's largest corporation.

Judge Keltner Locke ordered Wal-Mart to recognize UFCW Local 540 as the bargaining representative for the meat cutters and to restore the department to its prior structure, the union said.

"This is a historic decision -- the first bargaining order issued against Wal-Mart in the United States," Local 540 President Johnny Rodriguez said in a statement. "It is a victory for all Wal-Mart workers who are fighting for a voice at work."

But Wal-Mart downplayed the ruling, describing it as "limited."

"Wal-Mart has consistently contended that the union should never have been certified in Jacksonville because the election result was improperly influenced by union misconduct and because the bargaining unit requested was improperly narrow," the company said in a release. "This portion of the ruling will be appealed."

Wal-Mart said the same judge ruled in the company's favor in two other cases, including validating election results in which associates in another Texas city, Palestine, voted against UFCW representation.

  June 20, 2003, 11:56PM

Forklift plant workers reject union

A group of workers at the Mitsubishi Caterpillar forklift plant in Houston voted Friday to no longer be represented by a union.

Members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association voted 210 to 174 to sever their connection with the union.

This decision came after little more than a year of futile negotiations between workers at the Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America plant and management.

Union officials said the company never bargained seriously with the union since it was approved by workers in May 2002.

"They just showed up and made some proposals they knew we wouldn't accept and successfully drug it for a year," said Linda Morales, project director of the Sheet Metal Workers union in Houston.

Morales said the company proposed to cut wages 8 percent and increase health insurance costs by 25 percent.

Michael Clark, the chief negotiator for the company, countered that those numbers were only from its initial proposal and the union's first proposal was "astronomical."

"We feel we were bargaining in good faith," Clark said.

The union will consider filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle