Teamsters proclaim victory at Marathon

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Teamsters Local 120 said its members took a stand against a multi-billion dollar company — and won. Three days after a rally in support of striking oil refinery workers drew nearly 500 people to the quiet suburb of St. Paul Park, negotiators from Local 120 and Marathon Oil reached a tentative contract agreement. With the three-year contract secured, Local 120 ended its seven-week strike, which began July 19 in response to Marathon’s demand for 25 pages of union concessions that, employees said, would have negatively affected job-site safety and workers’ schedules.

Local 120 leadership admitted the contract — ratified in a membership vote that concluded Sept. 6 — is not perfect, but called it a decided victory over management. Union leaders pointed to 32 specific areas of “key gains” for employees.

“Our members took a stand against a multi-billion dollar oil company — not over money or benefits, but because they wanted to be able to work safely and enjoy their families,” Teamsters Local 120 Secretary-Treasurer Brad A. Slawson Jr. said.

To achieve those goals, Teamsters negotiators convinced management to forego its concessionary demands and, instead, focus on alternative solutions to the company’s underlying concerns – solutions that maintained protections for union workers.

Among Marathon’s concessionary demands was a sharp increase in the number of days off per month Teamsters workers would spend on-call. Marathon’s initial offer would have kept workers on-call during about 90 percent of their days off.

“What we got worked out is, we guaranteed ourselves days off work without being on standby about 80 percent of the time,” Slawson said. “In that industry, that’s a great agreement because it is more commonly what they wanted, but we held our ground.”

Local 120 did not prevent Marathon from reclassifying several safety workers – Teamsters when the strike began – from being reclassified as supervisors and therefore ineligible for union membership. But Slawson said that was one of the few bargaining points that didn’t go the Teamsters’ way.

“Since the strike happened and we went back to work, we made 40 different enhancements for the union,” he said. “We achieved more money, we achieved a better vacation policy, a better sick-day policy. The company had wanted to take away our right to purchase gas right at the plant, and get a discount at our plant. We maintained that right as well. They wanted to shorten our lunch breaks.

“Everything that they wanted – they had a 40-page document full of concessions — we basically got 95 percent of those things taken away.”

Labor community ‘steps up’
Though the strike lasted nearly two months, morale among the rank and file remained high, according to the Teamsters, who called the support shown by members of Twin Cities labor community heartening.

The new contract is a “testament to the strength of our members’ convictions and the breadth of support they enjoyed from labor, political, community and religious organizations,” Slawson said.

That support came both financially and emotionally. Some Twin Cities locals donated cash and food, while members of others joined the Teamsters on the picket line in St. Paul Park.

The Aug. 26 rally featured a procession of 50 representatives from a wide range of labor and civic organizations, all of whom pledged to support the strike by leafleting Marathon Oil-owned gas stations, urging potential customers to fill their tanks elsewhere. Attorney General Mike Hatch and Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, both candidates for statewide office, addressed the crowd against a backdrop of semi trucks from Teamsters locals across the U.S.

“The rally made me proud to be a Teamster,” Local 120 Steward Kenny Schwebach said. “This contract makes me even prouder.”

This article first appeared in The Union Advocate, the official newspaper of the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly. Used by permission. E-mail The Advocate at: advocate@stpaulunions

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