Bargaining at Sunoco

Union members Charles Wilson, left, and Bill Rachubinski greet each other a meeting with Gov. Corbett at the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union Hall in Marcus Hook. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff photographer )

The bargaining involved in the Sunoco refinery was unusual for its mutual respect, desire to succeed and level of collaboration, participants said. Two lawyers involved said they had never experienced anything like it in decades of bargaining, and a member of the United Steelworkers Local 10-1's bargaining committee said the negotiations represented the highlight of his union participation.

"This is the most respect we've ever been shown by a company," said Bill "Rock" Rachubinski, 50, of Philadelphia, 

The effort by the union and the company to keep the Sunoco's South Philadelphia refinery open  saved hundreds of jobs, with the tone at the bargaining table set by Sunoco's new leader, Brian MacDonald, according to the stories written by my colleague Andrew Maykuth. (Click here to read his story about the Sunoco-Carlyle deal). But the company had a willing partner in the union. (Click here to read my story about the union's role.)    

Rachubinski said he's done just about every kind of bargaining in his 25 years of being a union member, serving some of them on the negotiating team for the United Steelworkers Local 10-1. "I've learned to negotiate win-win. I've negotiated adversarially. I've done offensive bargaining and objective bargaining," he said. "This was a true win-win. The company wins. We win. We are looking forward to working with them."

Rachubinski was hanging out in the hallway of union headquarters in Linwood, on his way out to relax in Maryland. The union's lawyers, having just spoke to the members, were relaxing in an office, next to a table loaded with doughnuts, sandwiches and coffee. It felt like a good time and big relief.

"This was an excellent negotiation," said Debra A. Jensen, a lawyer with Galfand Berger LLP., part of a hired team of professionals brought in by the union to handle the details and draw up the contract. "Both sides made an effort to listen and to understand."

Jensen said she had never been in a similar negotiation in her entire career. "We've never represented a workplace that was on the precipice of closing. It was really unique," she said, describing the negotiations as "a condensed process with the parties seeking solutions and trying to find compromise and consensus with a shared goal of success." 

She credits the union with making a big effort to learn all it could about the refinery business, broadening their view beyond the micro-world of compensation, and working rules in the individual refinery. "They made it their job to get smart," she said. "Carlyle had to be confident that the workers were truly the ultimate experts."