LIMA — The past 11 months have been trying for Husky Lima Refinery and the United Steel Workers Local 624 as contract negotiations, which have been underway since last April, have rolled through 24-hour extension after 24-hour extension.
Union members have worked through holidays and a partial shutdown of the refinery — part of Husky’s long-term crude oil flexibility project, which ended late last year — all with the knowledge that a strike or contract vote may be imminent.
But today, there may be a breakthrough.
Local 624 members have been voting on a proposed three-year contract since Tuesday, the results of which will be known late Wednesday evening.
This is the first time membership has voted on a contract since bargaining started in 2019. And USW Local 624 President Mike Edelbrock said it’s the first time the union has truly bargained a new contract since 2009, having gone on strike for four months in 2012 and later agreeing to renew that contract three years later, in 2015.
Eleven months of bargaining have “discouraged” rank and file members, many of whom Edelbrock said have skipped family vacations and holidays out of fear they may miss a vote as the union’s 2015 contract has been extended on a 24-hour rolling basis since April 15 last year.
“Their lives are put on hold,” he told The Lima News on Tuesday. “They’re wondering what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of frustration. They feel disrespected. We’ve got people working around the clock, extra shifts to get through the shutdown. You’re talking people working 12 hours a day, even through the holidays.
“It’s frustrating and they feel the company doesn’t value the sacrifice they’re doing to their families.”
Key issues for the union this year are wages and working conditions. In particular, the union is seeking better separation of duties for plant operators and the ability for shift workers, who operate on a rotating day and night schedule, to trade shifts with their colleagues.
But the strife of the 2012 strike lingers on Edelbrock’s mind, even as he is disappointed with the proposal rank and file members are voting on today.
“We don’t want to go on strike,” he said. “Our intention is to get an agreement, even if these votes go down. Our position is the only way we go out on the street is if the company locks us out. It’s harder to bargain from the street.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.