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Conoco Workers Reject Contract

July 18, 2002

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SULPHUR, La. (AP) _ Conoco refinery workers voted Wednesday to reject a contract offer opposed by union negotiators who are threatening a strike by week’s end.

More than 500 employees at Conoco’s Westlake plant are covered by the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, also known as PACE.

Turnout at the local union headquarters in Sulphur was high, said Leon Royer, chairman of PACE’s Conoco group. Royer said the union would not release voting totals.

``We were surprised at the number of people who turned out to vote. We feel that the people listened to what we had to say and overwhelmingly reacted,″ he said. ``A strike is a distinct possibility now, but it all depends on how the company reacts to this. The ball is in their court.″

Conoco and PACE will meet Thursday morning to try and come to an agreement and avert a strike.

The union plans to give Conoco 24 hours notice of a work stoppage that would begin Friday unless there is a late-hour breakthrough in negotiations, Royer said.

Strike signs had already been printed and were visible in the union hall Wednesday morning.

Lynn Hohensee, a spokesman for Conoco in Westlake, said the company was weighing its options.

``We regret that the majority of union members did not recognize the added value and gained benefits incorporated in the company’s offer,″ Hohensee said.

Most of the disagreements between PACE and Conoco deal with drug policies and overtime work.

Conoco intends to implement mandatory drug testing with a zero-tolerance policy, an initiative that PACE does not have a problem with, Royer said. He said PACE objects to two clauses within the drug policy. One states that the refinery can change the policy during the life of the contract. The other bans union members from filing grievances.

If the contract stands, union members will not have freedom to object if they believe an employee was wrongly terminated as a result of the drug policy, Royer said.

``Don’t try to portray it as we’re bunch of dope heads who don’t want to be tested. That’s not the case,″ Royer said. ``We already agreed to a zero tolerance drug policy. But the basic principles of a union are the right to negotiate work conditions and to represent employees who feel they are wronged. This contract removes both of those″ with respect to the drug policy.

The company and union have agreed on most major issues, such as regular pay, vacation time and health benefits, Royer said.

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