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ConocoPhillips Refinery

ConocoPhillips will officially split in two on Tuesday, spinning off its refineries under the Phillips 66 name. The Billings refinery should not be affected, other than a name change.

Labor contracts are set to expire at all three Billings-area refineries at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, a deadline that looms at refineries every three years.

Refineries around the nation have been in labor negotiations with the United Steelworkers International. Locally and nationally, most refinery labor agreements expire just after midnight.

Lynne Hancock, spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers International, declined to provide details on the progress being made on a new agreement. The current three-year deal covers 30,000 workers. Shell Oil Co. is the lead negotiating company.

The area’s refineries -- ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and CHS -- are all Class 7 employers, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, meaning each employs 250 to 500 workers.

Union officials have been drawing up strike rosters and oil companies have been making plans to keep refineries running without USW labor, should negotiations fail.

The USW said at the start of negotiations that a national strike at all 69 U.S. facilities could crimp two-thirds of U.S. oil refining. A nationwide shutdown hasn’t occurred since 1980.

Hancock said process safety is still the union's top concern because 18 refinery workers have died since agreeing on the current three-year contract. Although the USW didn't represent any of the workers who died in Deepwater Horizon tragedy in April 2010, the accident epitomized "the lack of enough attention to safety within the industry."

"We don't want to have to attend any more funerals for fallen workers," Hancock said.

The union represents workers at U.S. production, refining, marketing, transportation, pipeline and petrochemical facilities.

Contact Tom Lutey at tlutey@billingsgazette.com or 657-1288

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