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Oil refineries in Western Washington face possible strike

Bargaining is going down to the wire on new labor contracts at three of the five big oil refineries in the Northwest. Union members have been told to prepare to strike as early as Wednesday.

United Steelworkers union contracts expire tonight for the ConocoPhillips refinery near Ferndale, Washington, at Tesoro Anacortes and at the US Oil refinery in Tacoma.

In recent days, national union leaders have directed locals to prepare for "an orderly shutdown" of the facilities if bargaining reaches an impasse. Steelworkers Union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock says safety enhancements are key issues in the contract negotiations.

"We're really trying to focus on trying to get an agreement. Just because locals may be preparing for a strike doesn't necessarily mean that one is definitely going to happen tonight," Hancock said.

Financial newswires are reporting that the major oil companies have contingency plans to keep operating with replacement workers if their union labor walks out. The affected refineries are major suppliers to the West Coast, so any strike could raise gasoline prices in short order in the Northwest.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.