Labor

ExxonMobil makes first amended offer since lockout

Locked out United Steel Workers Union members, including (from left) Zachary Simon and Carlos Soto, take their shifts picketing outside Beaumont’s ExxonMobil plant on Labor Day.
source Kim Brent

ExxonMobil has made a new, amended offer to the USW Local 13-243 for the first time since the lockout of over 620 workers began almost six months ago. But it comes with a timeline.

If the company doesn’t receive an answer by Nov. 1, it has said it will start removing beneficial proposals for employees from its offer.

On Wednesday, the company announced that its bargaining representatives gave the union a new offer at its Monday meeting, which it said contained changes that the union previously expressed interest in.

Both parties have met multiple times each month since the lockout began in May, but until now, the company hasn’t adjusted its offers or accepted any of the union’s multiple requests.

“After extensive review and discussion with the Union, the Company has decided to amend its offer,” representatives for the company wrote in a statement. “Over the last several months, the Union has made clear their interest in an offer which expands support for security and seniority.”

The company says additional language was included that added seniority protection for employees who move between the refinery and lucubration operations, including seniority-honored vacation selections and protection in the case of layoffs. It also includes increased job security and protection for employees in materials and business support, according to the company.

The offer also would combine promotion paths for package and warehouse workers at the blending and packaging plant, making a more cohesive level of wage increases and career development.

During the lockout and the months of negotiations leading up to it, the company has been seeking the ability to more effectively cross-train workers, cut-down on redundancies and have more flexibility with staffing shifts, but most of its efforts to reach those goals have alarmed union leaders.

Bryan Gross, a USW District 13 representative, said the provisions outlined by the company essentially align with some of the goals the union has been seeking, but they are only three simplified parts of a nearly 40-page agreement that the USW bargaining committee are still reviewing.

“The reality is there are still critical issues still here, like one of their proposals in this offer that would essentially get rid of job bidding,” Gross said.

The union has previously said that provisions in the contract that might end senior operator positions and interrupt the chain of seniority threaten safety and the hard-fought benefits that the union and members have been working toward for decades.

That proposal, which would specifically get rid of the Operator A position in the refinery, is still in play.

The company said its offer still includes a six-year contract term, pay raises for the majority of employees, previously-included benefits such as additional vacation protection, increased paid parental time off and National Oil Bargaining Pattern side-letters, including a job security letter that provides protection from layoff.

While it has started placing more things on the table, ExxonMobil said it would withdraw parts of its offer if it couldn’t ratify it by Nov. 1, including the $500 bonus, 2021 raises and even arbitration for employee resignations.

Gross confirmed that this was the first time that company has placed the current contract’s arbitration language on the chopping block.

Overall, the union sees the offer as a positive sign after months without movement, but Gross said the company’s approach and the inclusion of an arbitrary timeline and potential punishments potentially turn the proposal into another power play.

“They realize that we’ve been into this now for six months, and things are tight,” Gross said. “I think they are trying everything they can to force a deal union members may not necessarily want.

As a part of their explanation of the offer to employees, ExxonMobil representatives again outlined that the only way the lockout would be ended was with a vote by members to ratify an offer.

So far, no ratification vote has been held by the local union since the lockout began.

The timing of ExxonMobil’s announcement coincides with another gambit the union has been pursuing since earlier in the summer.

On Monday, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration announced that it was officially removing ExxonMobil’s Beaumont Blending and Packaging plant from its Voluntary Protection Programs.

The VPP recognizes a company as an elite example of workplace safety that implements the latest and most rigorous training and safety policies. It requires periodic inspections and union participation if employees are represented by a labor organization in order for a company to claim the status.

The USW informed OSHA in June that employees continued to be locked out of the job site and the agency followed earlier in the week after it became clear that an obvious end wasn’t in sight, according to a letter from its regional office.

“We don’t believe the current operations in your Blending facility, including the continued inability of the Union to represent the employees, embody your full commitment to VPP,” Amanda Edens, deputy assistant secretary of labor, wrote in a signed letter.

The company has 30 days to appeal the decision and state its case to why it should still be included in the program.

Written by Jacob Dick

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