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St. Paul Park refinery workers vote to strike if no contract deal is reached

St. Paul Park oil refinery workers say they will strike at the end of the year if they don’t settle on a new contract with refinery owner Northern Tier Energy.

The 190-member Teamsters Local 120 union voted Monday to strike when the current two-year contract expires Dec. 31. The union says Northern Tier Energy has proposed to cut wages for some workers, eliminate jobs for others and make vacation and overtime changes, among other modifications.

“The company is asking for huge concessions and all our guys want to do is keep working,” said Chris Riley, the union’s business agent and a former refinery employee.

A Northern Tier Energy spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Riley said that beginning Friday union and company negotiators are scheduled to meet every day through the end of the year, except for weekends and Christmas. He wasn’t optimistic a deal can be reached.

“I’ll be surprised if we don’t strike,” Riley said.

The vote comes about a month after Texas-based Western Refining purchased a controlling share of Northern Tier Energy for $775 million.

“They’re making money hand over fist,” Riley claimed.

The refinery produces gasoline and diesel fuel and other petroleum-based fuels and products. Northern Tier Energy also owns SuperAmerica gas stations and the SuperMom’s bakery line.

The union went on a seven-week strike in 2006, objecting to proposed contract terms by then-owner Marathon Petroleum. The election-year strike drew pro-union picket-line visits by John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate, and then-U.S. Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar and Mike Hatch, who was running for governor.

The 2006 strike was the first in the refinery’s history.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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