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Steelworkers strike at Chevron refinery in California

The strike at Chevron's San Francisco Bay Area refinery will likely add to the woes of California drivers already paying the highest gas prices in the nation.

RICHMOND, Calif.(CN) — Members of the United Steelworkers Local 5 walked off the job at the Chevron refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area on Monday, after negotiations with Chevron management broke down.

"It's disappointing that Chevron would walk away from the table instead of bargaining in good faith with its dedicated work force," said Mike Smith, chair of the USW's National Oil Bargaining Program. "USW members continued to report for work throughout the pandemic so our nation could meet its energy needs. They deserve a fair contract that reflects their sacrifice."

About 600 workers will not punch the clock Monday, and while Chevron insists the refinery will continue to operate at maximum capacity, any slowdown could create more upward pressure on gas prices that average just under $6 per gallon in the Golden State. 

"We countered with just a minimal bump and we were told by the corporation that there was no movement, no money," said BK White, a worker involved in the union’s negotiations. 

Chevron says they offered the workers raises — ranging from 2.5% to 3.5% over four years — that were consistent with other offers to unions working at refineries around the United States. 

"The union’s demands exceeded what the company believes to be reasonable and moved beyond what was agreed to as part of the national pattern bargaining agreement," Chevron said.

The workers say Chevron, which is headquartered in San Ramon, California, has gone from struggling during the pandemic to making large profits as demand for energy and gasoline has once again surged as Americans get back to work. 

"When a company can report $15 billion profit and the highest profit since 2014, they can give the people whose backs they’re making these earnings off of, give them a little boost to help them out," White said. 

The oil and gas development company said it would begin training workers immediately to fill the positions left empty by striking workers and that it did not anticipate disruption to the supply chain in California. 

The old contract expired in February and workers were working under 24-hour rolling extensions until the union pulled them off the job Monday morning. 

While the cost of oil has plummeted from its peak two weeks ago amid the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has disrupted the global oil market, gas prices are not expected to fall anytime soon. 

Demand for gasoline will likely stay steady as more and more people return to in-person work as the pandemic wanes in the United States and the summer months feature a special blended gasoline that is harder to refine. 

Oil workers did receive a 12% raise last month, but at the Richmond refinery say the bump was insufficient to keep up with rising costs in Northern California. 

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