Unionized oil refinery workers are seeking high annual wage increases--possibly more than 10 percent in the first year--in preliminary talks with national oil industry representatives, according to Robert F. Goss, president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union.
In a recent interview in New York, Goss would not say exactly how high a wage boost his union wants in new contracts, which will replace current two-year agreements expiring Jan. 7. But some union and industry sources are saying the OCAW wants raises above 10 percent in the first year of any new agreements.
Such raises would put affected refinery workers at least 1.2 percentage points above the predicted average 8.8 percent increase for all first-year contract settlements in 1982, and could complicate significantly the Reagan administration's battle against inflation.
But Goss said "substantial pay increases" are needed to help his members live with inflation, which averaged 10.1 percent for the first nine months of 1981. He said his union is forced to seek high, straight pay raises because it has no cost of living allowance (COLA) clauses in any of the 400 separate contracts expiring next January. The agreements cover about 55,000 OCAW members, who are paid an average $15.66 hourly, including wages and benefits.
"We don't have a COLA and we are not seeking a COLA, now. We're seeking a substantial pay increase . . . and I mean 'substantial'," Goss said. OCAW spokesman James G. (Jerry) Archuleta said yesterday that union officials "aren't putting out any exact figures right now," although he said the 10 percent figure suggested by other sources "seems a little low."
OCAW members got an 8 percent pay raise in 1979, and the union reopened that two-year contract one year later in a bid to get improved health and dental plans and a pay raise higher than the 5 percent scheduled for the second year of that agreement. The oil companies objected. The union went on strike for nearly three months and came out of the dispute with about 0.52 cent an hour more, roughly a 10 percent increase over what its members got in 1979.
Goss said he does not want another strike, but will call one if he has to. "The oil companies are not in the same shape as the auto companies. The oil industry is making money . . . This industry has never said it couldn't afford any demand that we made. They've simply said we're not going to pay it, period," he said.
Oil industry sources disagree. One of them, who represents a major company, said yesterday "it's clear that unionized refinery workers have kept pace with inflation," and "the whole talk this year in industry circles is that we ought to have a single-digit increase in pay."
The source, who requested anonymity for himself and his company, added: "If we paid our employes on the basis of whether or not we're a profitable concern, we would seriously affect the wage scales in less-profitable industries" such as auto and rubber, both of which begin bargaining next year. "We have to keep our wages competitive," the industry source said.