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Local 877 in the 1970's
Jan 10, 2014

Our wish had finally come true, now it was up to us to lead the men and women we worked with throughout the years. Even though we had our own charter we kept the contract bargained for us by Teamsters Local 866. But, there was no time to waste because Exxon management was surely going to test us in the coming months.

Through the grievance procedure, we fought the company on many issues. "Stalling" became the name of the game for the company, for years to come. But it never stopped the Union from taking "just" cases to an impartial third party when they felt it necessary. By 1976 some 65 cases had been taken to arbitration.

One of the most important of these cases was the one regarding Minor Maintenance Practices, over 1200 grievances were filed under one case and submitted to arbitration. The wording of this case was quoted in the August 1966 issue of the Refinery Worker News "The Union protests the violations of the agreement between the parties concerning minor maintenance which has caused employees to be backed down, lose promotional rights, wages, and to perform tasks not encompassed within their job classification. This is resulting in the transfer of jobs and job duties normally assigned to Mechanical Department employees to the Process Department employees. All of which results from the company's insistence that Process Employees perform minor maintenance to an extent beyond that which the average process man can perform such work safely, and beyond that which the average process man can perform such work with or without nominal direction. Further by making assignments of such tasks in such a fashion as to interfere with the Process Employees primary operating duties."

This time Esso tried to make the case that since they were being forced to choose an arbitrator from the panel offered by the American Arbitration Association that it could not be guaranteed to get an Arbitrator acceptable to them. This would cause irreparable harm to them and so they sought an injunction against the case going to Arbitration. Again Esso lost its suit. The case was heard by the Arbitrator. After many hearing days, the Arbitrator ruled in the Unions favor by restricting the mechanical work that could be performed by the process people.

Before we even received the Minor Maintenance decision, the companies would again try to assign a job performed by the shift mechanics to the process people on the docks. The Union again grieved and arbitrated these actions and won. The September 1971 newsletter notes that "The Company once again has demonstrated its ability for bad faith bargaining in a decision handed down by Mr. Sidney Cahn, Arbitrator. The Local received a letter dated, August 23, 1971, that the Companies are willing to comply with the arbitrator's decisions but on August 26, 1971, they reneged by twisting the language to fit their own desires. The Union is proceeding with court action to force the companies to live up to the Arbitrators award."

In October 1971 an agreement was finally reached between the Union and the Companies "The recent agreement on minor maintenance provides for three metal section employees to be placed on each process shift." Since at the time there was three shifts that meant some 9 metals jobs were saved and process did not have to perform the mechanical work while trying to do their operating duties.

This did not mean that the company ever gave up on the idea of having process people doing mechanical work in order to eliminate workers. In both the 1985 and the 1993 contract negotiations increased the amount and kinds of mechanical work to be done by process under "minor maintenance" and in fact it was the Tosco Corporation, (BRC) that finally succeeded in forcing the ship tie-ups and docking hook-ups onto the backs of the Process People.

Many of the grievances that went to arbitration in 1966 remained unresolved years later. The Holiday Pay for process people was one of these. The company decided to save money by scheduling an individual to be off on the Holiday, when it was their normal day of work. Although this was arbitrated in favor of the Union in 1967, the Company once again instituted the same policy in 1975. The July Newsletter states "This policy was not negotiated with the local union ..... Anyone who was scheduled to be off on July 4, instead of working, should file a grievance within 30 days with their Shop Steward."

In February 1976 under the title "Justice Does Prevail" the Newsletter notes "On Monday, December 24th, 1975, Arbitrator Jay Kramer found in favor of the Union .... Those who were scheduled off on a Holiday they ordinarily would have worked, have a legitimate loss of wages claim." When interviewing Stan Nowicki, who was Grievance Chairman at the time, he said that he stapled the process schedule to the grievance and all the Process People ended up being covered that would have worked.

Another company savings plan included the forced ending of Craft Divisions. In the August 1966 newsletter the union refers to the arbitration hearing on mechanical practices. Again in the June 1970 Newsletter the Union refers to the company's attack on craft divisions.

"Any member of the Mechanical Department who is given a work assignment out of his section should contact his steward immediately. The union never gave this right to the company under our present contract."

The company looked to reduce manpower in other ways. One of these was violating the Five Operator Policy in the contract. This manning requirement was won by the Union to insure Process People would have enough coverage so that they could get the time off they needed. In September 1971, the Union notified the company that it was taking the violation of the Five Operator Policy to Arbitration. In April 1973 the union refers to the company's bad faith bargaining regarding this issue. "The bargaining proposals of both sides in the OMCC computer center included possible settlement of presently scheduled arbitration cases involving the process five operator policy in regards to the manning of the pipestills and powerformer units under the computer set up negotiated last contract." It seems that the Labor Relations Department overruled the two Plant Managers and the union was once again forced to the arbitration system. Again Exxon turned to the court system to try to stop the Union. The 1975 newsletter states "The union has been notified that the pending U.S. District Court case before Judge Coolahan is scheduled for Thursday, April 15, 1975. This involved a restraining order against Local 877 from arbitrating the Five Operator Policy and the Overtime Policy. Although these are part of the letters of agreement attached to the contract, the company claimed they were not part of the contract.”

Another bone of contention between the union and the company was over seniority and qualifications. The company kept attacking seniority through the qualifications argument. They simply wanted to overlook people that management didn't like when it came to bidding or promotions. Again and again, the company would battle with the union over seniority and with the sale of the Refinery in 1993 this would again be a major issue for the union to defend.

Exxon's tactic of driving all grievances to arbitration and the court system continued. In 1976 alone, 230 grievances were filed in the Refinery, and 107 in the Chemical Plant. The vast majority of these were over minor maintenance, mechanical practices and overtime. That same year the Executive Board had to table grievances back logged from 1973, 1974 and 1975. They took 22 cases of them to arbitration. The union replied to these tactics in the October 1976 newsletter, "For a long time, it has been obvious to the Executive Board of this Local that the company - through their labor relations experts - has been attempting to 'break' our local union; Financially and otherwise - By forcing us to go outside our plant with their numerous and repeated negative answers given through the grievance procedure. At our general membership meeting in October, a motion was made from the floor and carried that our next contract shall not be signed until all outstanding grievances are satisfactorily resolved."

In the interview with Stan Nowicki he said of his term as Secretary-Treasurer, "The local was in hock some $30,000 - 40,000. Partly because when we switched from the independent union to the Teamsters, we had all these arbitration cases. I remember the one for the severance pay - Gene Grohl was out in a boat fishing and the supervisors went out to the boat to serve papers so that they could take the case over to the New York Courts. We had to get both New York and New Jersey lawyers. We ended up having to do everything on our own time. Local 877 didn't have enough money to do everything. But, we won 16 arbitration cases in a row."

This is one reason that the executive board always tells the membership to file a grievance, whenever the company violates the contract. A grievance is the best way, and usually the only way, the union can document a problem and prove to arbitrator that this is a persistent contract violation. During contract negotiations grievances prove to be a valuable tool in attaining many goals for the local. As we researched the history we found that most of the benefits we had before the sale to Tosco, we attained through the grievance procedure.

The Local kept trying over the years to get all the Independent Exxon Unions under the Teamsters banner. In the January 1972 newsletter a meeting is described of delegates representing some 30,000 Humble Oil Company employees. "The main purpose of this group will be to increase our strength in collective bargaining .....”

The company's attempts to rid itself of the Teamsters Union went on to other fronts as well. One battle was over organizing. Here the union sought to strengthen its position against the giant corporation by uniting all the Exxon unions under the Teamster's banner and thus under the banner of the nationwide coordinating council. We also helped to unite the Exxon Unions with the OCAW International. Several attempts were made to get the BESU into the Teamsters fold, each time the company "wine and dined" the membership and made veiled threats that they would lose "their perks" if they went Teamster. In each vote the Teamsters were narrowly defeated. As for the domestic trade drivers, they would approach the Teamsters when they were in contract negotiations, the only time they would of went Teamster was in 1990. However, the independent union filed NLRB charges against the company stalling a vote, the new Administration elected in 1991 did not feel this was a worthwhile effort and ceased all organizing efforts. In the Baton Rouge Refinery and Chemical Plant the Teamsters lost a NLRB election despite the best attempts of the International and Southern Conference of Teamsters. To this day Bayway remains the only Refinery and Chemical Plant in the Exxon family.

In July 1970, the Nationwide Coordinating Council met in Las Vegas. It represented over 200,000 oil and allied workers. It endorsed a five point program for wage and policy negotiations. Included were full retirement after 30 years of service or sixty years of age, a twelve percent wage increase per year, plus a cost of living clause, and increase in premium pay, improvement in hospitalization, surgical, dental and vision care, increase in holidays and one week improvement in vacation plans for each service group.

The February 1971 General Membership Meeting held the vote for ratification or rejection of the contract proposals. A list of 11 proposals was presented in the newsletter, ranging from transportation, mechanical progression, to process manning. "The first trial balloon was sent up in December when an attempt was made by the major oil companies to set the pattern at 7 percent the first year, and 5 percent the second, with no other improvements offered at the time. These offers were made to various Independent "families" around the country. Thanks to the organized International Unions, mostly the OCAW, the following pattern has been established: 8 1/2 percent raise the first year, 7 1/2 percent raise during the second year, one additional holiday, and increased medical and surgical benefits in insurance and pension programs."

Local 877's Executive Board signing the first contract between Exxon and Local 877

On February 13, 1971 The Daily Journal reported, "A two year contract was accepted Friday night by a 425 - 275 vote of Teamsters local 877,... after the Bayway Refinery Management Team added $250 per person lump sum in lieu of retroactively.

The Contract includes yearly increase of 8 1/2 percent and 7 1/2 percent, rejected Monday by a near unanimous Union vote. The Humble Oil Company had balked at retroactively to November 1970 ... A Union Spokesman said the employees won a contract clause restricting activity of Supervisors, a reduction in training time for Process and Mechanical workers and an easing of vacation schedule restrictions."

Russ Harris, past President for Local 877 for many years said, "It was the threat of a strike that was effective ... with the Teamsters, Exxon was never 100 sure that we wouldn't strike. We had the best of both worlds. We even got the Teamsters Eastern Conference guys and OCA W together to handle a problem.... We were invited to the OCA W Convention. When a guy from District 8 asked what the Teamsters are doing here. Another gentleman (Who was dressed up like some kind of Indian) got up and said that the local over there, the one that you are knocking the shit out of, assessed their members $1.00 per member, and sent it to us when we were out on strike... The complainer sat down and we were seated at the convention." The Local throughout its history has kept up this good relationship with the OCAW.

The struggle for equality at the negotiating table went on. In 1973 the Local along with the other Esso-Humble Unions and coordinated their efforts once again with the OCA W. (The OCA W Contracts expired Jan. 1973, while the Esso-Humble Contracts lagged by about 2 months) This united effort once again paid off. The March 1973 Newsletter explains "Exxon Co. USA once again attempted to break the wage pattern by offering Baytown Refinery a 5.S percent wage increase effective December I, 1972. Through the efforts of the Joint Council of Unions, the OCA W was given the opportunity to set the wage pattern for the industry."

The OCAW was asking for. 50 cents per year of the two year contract, full retirement at age 60 - separated from Social Security (The companies tie pension money into Social Security) a new pension formula, full company paid hospital-surgical costs, shift differential increase and a jointly administered Health and Safety Committee.

As part of the 1973 contract negotiations the company agreed to keep job security and in fact announced a hiring program. Along with hiring they opened up bids from Process to Mechanical.

In October of 1973 the Union proposed a cost of living adjustment. Citing the company's 54 increase in profits over the first quarter of 1972, and the increase in the inflation rate. The company said no. The Local then went to the Eastern Conference of Teamsters for assistance and they demonstrated outside of the B.O.8. Building at Bayway. Then in March of 1974 they brought their demonstration to the main Exxon offices in New York City. Ed Stromenger tells about that day, "We took 14 guys to New York City with flags and posters of a Big Fat Cat to Rockerfeller Center. We stood on the street corner marching and handing out posters. The Daily News came down. A lot of the office workers kept asking us where we've been as they came out of the buildings." In May of 1974 the Company agreed to a 6 wage increase. By 1974 the Union was once again meeting to discuss bargaining proposals with 300 delegates from 8 OCA W districts. They represented some 65,000 workers in the oil and chemical industries. There were 50 delegates from Exxon Unions representing some 10,000 workers. In fact Teamster President Fitzsimmons wrote OCA W President Grospiron to request Local 877 be invited to participate in the formulation of bargaining policies for 1975 at the OCA W Convention.

This meeting discussed Health and Safety, (Prevalence of lung cancer among Welders and Insulators.), Economics (Oil industry profits were increasing at 4 times the rate of wages.),' Pension Benefits, (Integration of Social Security still was a big issue.), Cost of living clauses, plus Medical and Surgical benefits. It was agreed that the bargaining proposals would be brought to the Membership of each Local for formal ratification and each Local Union will be committed to this program.

In June 1974 the Executive Board wrote a letter to Fred Westphal, then Plant Manager of the Refinery, expressing their displeasure at the token changes made to the retirement program. "Rest assured that we will not let this issue die peacefully and that when collective bargaining negotiations begin early next year, we will pursue our position." The integration of Social Security and the oil company pensions continues to this day and is still an issue with the Unions.

Local issues for that bargaining period centered on the use of contractors to do maintenance work. In 1975 a new contract was signed that included significant pension reforms, including a minimum pension formula of 1.6, as well as improved medical surgical coverage, a 6 cost of living general wage increase before the contract negotiations, and a general wage increase of 1.50 to 1.80 percent during the two year contract.

The success of this campaign was felt to be due to the industry wide unity. A summary of the 1975 contract negotiations letter put out to the membership quotes Russ Harris, then Secretary-Treasurer, "The Executive Board of Local 877, was firmly committed to the program, and the Eastern Conference re-affirmed our position in negotiations. We do not believe it to be a coincidence that this is the finest economic package ever negotiated with the Oil Industry"

By September 1976, the local leadership was forced due to inflation to press for re-opening the contract around the cost of living clause. (Article 26) in an article entitled "Are we entitled to a Cost of Living Wage Adjustment?" The leadership points out that the cost of living index had risen 15.4 points in 18 months and that "Exxon Corporation for the first quarter of 1976 alone has reported an increase in net profits after taxes of 22.5"

In October 1976 the Union officially notified Bayway Refinery management of its desire to reopen the contract to negotiate a wage adjustment. Once again the Local also united with other Exxon Independent Unions for the upcoming negotiations, meeting in Chicago in May, proposals from the meeting were submitted to the OCA W Policy Committee and "A commitment was made to accept no less than the Nationwide Oil Industry Settlement." - June 1976 Newsletter.

Negotiations were very successful. Some highlights of the new contract were listed in the March 1976 newsletter; 9 percent general wage increase the first year; Increased payment toward medical coverage; Epidemiological studies on employees to be made by the Companies and this information to be supplied to the Union for evaluation; Lump sum payments for retroactively and grievances that went through the system; Automatic 3 days funeral leave; And new rules for overtime and grievance procedures. At the same time a hiring program was announced by the company.

By 1977 the attack was once again in full swing by the Company. By Christmas of that year the leadership wrote an open letter to its members, "In our opinion, Corporate Accountants and Lawyers are ruining our Country. They both figure out how you can break the rules and the law, with a pencil instead of a gun ... “The new attack included suspensions of employees with long service records, right after the longest and most costly turnaround of the Cat Plant in Bayway's history. Tougher positions on bidding rights, rejecting people once again for attitudes and work performance, (The same people who had once been told that they were the 'Cream of the Crop') and to add insult to injury the company "Decided to cancel the Children's' Christmas Party for Bayway Employees - a long standing tradition." Needless to say grievances and arbitrations abounded. By June of 1978, Grievance Chairman Stan Nowicki reported that since 1970 local 877 had filed 105 arbitration cases.

Contract negotiations began in December 1978 for the 1979-1980 contract. Again, the Executive Board tried to unite all the Exxon Unions in hopes of increasing the bargaining potential of all the workers. This informal band of Unions adopted a Charter, Constitution and Bylaws, and named itself the National Energy Workers Union.

It should also be noted that the Government also stepped into the fray at this time. Instituting national wage and price controls and guidelines. The OCA W vowed to disregard these and a strike looked imminent.

On the home front the Bayway Management was ever increasing the number of contractors as a way to weaken the Unions position. The January 1979 Newsletter reported an increase from 124 men average per day in 1975 to some 331 men average per day in 1978.

The unity of the past years with OCAW was weakened but not severed in 1979. OCA W went on strike - but Bayway, disregarding the Executive Boards recommendation, ratified the new contract as did some of the other Independent Unions. In a show of solidarity with the striking OCA W Workers the Local voted a Dues Assessment of $6.00 per member, per month for the duration of the oil workers’ strike in January 1980, giving over $ 10,000.00 to the OCAW.

Our new contract in 1979 did not come up to the previous ones, but some gains included 73 cents per hour general wage increase, a lump sum payment, improved health and safety language, time off in lieu of holiday pay, and added Assistant Operator to Light Ends, plus some language around Mechanical Rules and Overtime.

The Grievances, and Arbitration Cases continued to compile. In September 1979 it was reported that the Union was waiting for rulings on 4 Termination cases, on Process Bidding, Contractor Overtime, and had 20 other cases assigned for arbitration dates. "During 1979-1980 the Local spent close to $50,000 taking Exxon before an impartial party for the past 20 arbitrations… The company lawyers have been trying tactics such as prolonging the cases into two and three days because of technicalities… as you can see, this is a mighty expensive way to do business, but a necessary one as far as we're concerned."

Throughout the 1970's the Oil Industry was a very profitable business to be in. The problems in the Arabian Countries caused huge profits for companies like Exxon while forcing consumers to wait in line at the gas pumps to pay top dollar for gasoline. At this time crude oil prices were raising daily and the Major Refiners were looking at alternate ways of producing petroleum products. The Colorado Shale Oil Project was started with a little known company called Tosco. Exxon had decided to man this new project with workers from their refineries, and Bayway was chosen as the training site for many of these workers. There were hiring programs just about every two years, the need for this was twofold, one was the Shale Oil Project, the other the need to replace many of the "Old Timers", the World War II Veterans were nearing retirement age.

Read more (Local 877 throughout the 1980's...)

Teamsters Local 877
411 A North Wood Ave
Linden, NJ 07036

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