USW leader: U.S. refinery strike could spread over safe staffing

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A strike by U.S. refinery workers that entered its 16th day on Monday could spread if there is no progress in talks this week with plant owners on safe staffing levels, said the lead negotiator for the United Steelworkers union (USW). "The longer that this strike rolls on, the more people that will be affected," said Gary Beevers, USW international vice president, in a telephone interview on Monday. Asked if the lack of progress in talks with lead oil company negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc could result in strikes at more plants, Beevers said: "There certainly will be." About 5,200 workers from 11 plants, including nine refineries accounting for 13 percent of U.S. capacity, were walking picket lines after talks between the USW and Shell Oil Co failed to reach an agreement on a new national contract. Face-to-face negotiations between the two sides are scheduled to resume on Wednesday. Shell said it would need a week to fulfill an information request about the use of contractors by refiners. The USW has said the company is also considering a counterproposal from the union. "We're going to talk about safe staffing one way or the other," Beevers said. For the union, the use of non-union contractors and lack of an industry-wide policy on preventing worker fatigue are key obstacles to safe staffing. A Shell representative was not immediately available to discuss negotiations. (Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Terry Wade, Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown)