Story by Reuters

The United Steelworkers union and oil companies have reached a tentative deal to end the largest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years, the labor group and people familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

The new agreement would be for four years, a year longer than previous agreements, several people told Reuters.

The deal, which still needs to be ratified, may not end strikes right away at all refineries that have suffered walkouts as local union chapters could still need to work out pending issues.

“We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership,” said USW International President Leo Gerard. “There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.”

The tentative deal contains language that addresses worker fatigue, which is tied to accidents, and the use of contractors versus unionized labor. It also safeguards gains made in previous contracts, the union and sources said. They added that annual wage increases would likely be between 2 percent and 3 percent.

Lead industry negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc, when asked about the pact, said it had nothing to add.

Twelve refineries with a fifth of U.S. refining capacity have been hit by strikes during the last 40 days. Companies have responded by calling in temporary workers.

The contract would also cover refineries owned by Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc, Tesoro Corp, Valero Energy Corp, Chevron Corp and other companies.

On Wednesday, in a message to its members, the union said it was assembling its policy committee which represents the rank and file, to review proposals from industry during contract talks.

That move was widely seen as a signal that the strike may be nearing an end as the union pushed for higher wages and what it called better safety practices in a new pact for about 60 plants.

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