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    Strike Imminent at Conoco Refineries

    PACE union oil workers prepared to walk if agreement can't be reached.

    HOUSTON -- Oil workers at three Conoco Inc. refineries are prepared to go on strike if no agreement is reached soon on a new contract with management, the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) union said yesterday.

    "We have little hope of reaching an agreement with Conoco," said PACE administrative vice president Jim Pannell in a release, calling company proposals unacceptable. Conoco officials could not be reached for comment by Reuters.

    The refineries that would be affected by such a strike include Conoco's 60,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Billings, Mont. plant; 60,000 bpd Denver, Colo. plant; and 196,750 bpd Ponca City, Okla. plant, according to PACE, which represents about 30,000 oil and gas workers nationwide. Conoco's biggest refinery is in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with a crude distillation capacity of about 255,000 bpd. The 300 or so workers at Lake Charles face a July 15 expiration of their current contracts.

    Ponca City's contract for more than 400 workers expires on March 31 while the contracts for about 150 workers in both Billings and Denver expired Feb. 1 but have been continued to allow for more talks. Talks will continue today in Ponca City, but they have broken off in Billings and Denver. Pannell said he wanted Conoco to accept a national pattern agreement the union reached with most other U.S. oil refiners earlier this year -- as a basis for new contracts.

    "We are outraged that Conoco placed offers on the table that are clearly meant to weaken, if not destroy, the union at all of its refineries in the United States," said Pannell. "Conoco, on the eve of its merger with Phillips, is declaring war on the workers who have driven the company's success for decades."

    Conoco and Phillips shareholders earlier this month agreed to merge, which would create the number-three U.S. oil company. The merger may come in the second half of 2002 but must first be approved by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The new company would operate more than 600 convenience stores nationwide.

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