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Benefits stall refinery talks

The strike by the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers' Union against the nation's oil refineries has entered its sixth week with little disruption of gasoline or residual fuel oil supplies. Although both sides in the dispute have softened their positions somewhat, they remain fairly far apart.

Some of the country's smaller refiners, however, earger to settle the long strike, have agreed with the union on a wage package that includes a 10.5 percent increase in 1980 and a host of improved benefits. Among these are two more weeks of vacation for workers with 25 years' experience and a company contribution of $20 a month to an employee dental plan. Also, the employees' health and hospital plan has been improved. The companies will contribute $125 a month for family coverage and full payment for employees without dependents.

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So far 11 small refiners have settled with the union. Over the past weekend, the Fletcher Oil & Refining company, in Wilmington, Calif., agreed to the union package.

The major oil companies have yet to reach any agreements. Last week, for example, Robert F. Goss, president of the international arm of the union, met with officials of Atlantic Richfield in Los Angeles. According to a union spokesman, no agreements were reached.

Most of the majors report no problems producing refined products because of the strike. For example, a spokesman for Standard Oil of California says its Richmond, Calif., refinery has continued to operate as usual. and, a spokesman for Phillips Petroleum says its three struck refineries also are operating normally.

The refineries are being operated by supervisory personnel which has prompted some union officials to suggest there might be some safety violations.

However, a Phillips spokesman denies there are any safety problems. "Many of the supervisory people who are working in the struck refineries got their start working there. Some of them even helped design the equipment." A spokesman for Conoco, which has four of seven refineries on strike, adds that there have been no problems, including accidents, so far.

The major hangup in the negotiations appears to be the health and dental plans. Wages, union sources say, are not the main issue. However, union officials say it is difficult to determine what the additional cost of the health and dental plans would be in terms of a total contract. One estimate of the cost of the health segment of the agreement is that it would add another 8 to 9 percent to the cost of the settlement. Thus, the total yearly increase for the workers could come to more than 18 percent.

This week there are no talks scheduled. For the moment, both union and company sources say, the talks are stalled.


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