Oil workers across America started walking off the job at midnight yesterday in their first nationwide strike since Jimmy Carter was president. United Steelworkers union members are striking at nine refineries, accounting for more than 10% of US capacity, after rejecting five proposals for a new three-year contract, the BBC reports. A union spokesman says the industry is "the richest in the world," but companies are "too greedy to make a positive change in the workplace and they continue to value production and profit over health and safety, workers, and the community." The USW represents workers at more than 200 refineries, and a full walkout would affect almost two-thirds of US capacity, reports Bloomberg.
Shell, the industry's lead negotiator, says it hopes to resume talks as soon as possible. The union's demands include bigger pay increases and better health coverage. Demands in the 1980 strike included dental coverage and increased pay, both of which workers received. "Looking back now, we all have all our teeth when we retire. It was a good thing, you have to look at the long run," a retired refinery worker in Louisiana tells Reuters. Analysts say that the strike could send oil prices even lower if it escalates, but for now, strike contingency plans have been implemented to keep some affected facilities operating. (Read more oil refineries stories.)