WHITING — Strikes aren’t anything like they used to be in a more rough-and-tumble era.
Striking workers who picketed outside the BP Whiting Refinery for the last few months didn’t swear, or march up and down the picket line. They didn’t throw nails outside the gate, bust windows or park junk cars on the railroad tracks where oil tank cars exit before hurling the keys into nearby Lake Michigan.
United Steelworkers Local 7-1 members were however out on the picket line day and night to show they wouldn’t back down. They made sacrifices like keeping the thermostats down during the winter, not going out to eat, and not taking their kids on outings.
The nearly three-month-long strike took a toll. Social service agencies were starting to step in to offer assistance, such as loans to help the 1,100 or so refinery workers to keep up on their mortgage payments and stave off foreclosure.
So in the end, was it worth it?
USW Local 7-1 members say they won an important victory that will benefit future generations by preserving bargaining rights and giving the union a say in safety. The national pattern agreement, which BP agreed to, requires that the USW participate in reviews of staffing, workloads, daily maintenance and repair work at refineries nationwide.
“This strike has become part of my legacy,” said Sharon Warnecke, who was the first female firefighter at the refinery and the only one for 17 years. “What we’ve done is going to affect generations behind us. We’re grateful we were able to protect the people coming up behind us.”
The USW was unwilling to concede bargaining rights it’s had at the 126-year-old refinery since 1937. BP added language to the contract saying the union can bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions when USW Local 7-1 agreed to forfeit its ability to strike over local issues when the agreement is in effect.
“People who haven’t even been born yet will be affected by what we did,” Warnecke said. “You got to remember, this refinery has been here for more than 120 years, so it’s going to be here for a long time. We have to protect the people who are coming up behind us and their rights. Kids that are 5 years old now will someday be here working.”
Striking worker Teri Smith said the union took a stand, and the tentative agreement it secured was historically important. She said they were fighting to preserve the middle class in Northwest Indiana.
“We’re aware of what previous generations did for us,” she said. “And we’re aware that we held onto it for our future.”
This article was written by JOSEPH S. PETE from The Times, Munster, Ind. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.