© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Steelworkers (USW) union members picket outside Exxon Mobil’s oil refinery amid a contract dispute in Beaumont, Texas, U.S., May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Erwin Seba
By Erwin Seba
BEAUMONT, Texas (Reuters) -Union officials on Monday agreed to schedule a membership vote on a contract offer that could end a nearly 10-month worker lockout at an Exxon Mobil (NYSE:) refinery in southeast Texas, a union official said.
The leadership of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-243 agreed to put a sweetened Exxon contract proposal received last week to its about 600 members. A vote was scheduled for Monday, Feb. 21.
On Friday, Exxon agreed to contract changes that would make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday, updates language regarding a union committee and adds a new job description for operators in the 369,024 barrel-per-day refinery and lubricant facility.
“With the company’s latest move, with the MLK holiday added, we felt it was time for the membership to have the say-so on where we go from here,” said Bryan Gross, a USW International representative.
“We still don’t think the offer is where it should be,” said Gross, noting union officials are making no recommendation on the offer. “But it has been 10 months. We want people to vote how they feel. If they want to vote ‘no,’ we’ll keep on. If they want to vote ‘yes,’ then we’ll go from there.”
Exxon was not immediately available to comment.
The oil company has said the lockout would end when either a contract acceptable to the company is ratified or the union is removed.
Beaumont union workers have been without paychecks since May with managers, supervisors and temporary replacement workers continuing to produce gasoline and Mobil 1 motor oil.
In October, the workers had voted against an earlier Exxon offer.
If workers accept the latest contract offer, the union and Exxon will have to negotiate a return-to-work agreement spelling out rules for returning workers before they can re-enter the refinery.
Exxon has said it began the lockout to avoid disruption from a threatened strike at the refinery and adjoining lubrication oil plant, which makes Mobil 1 motor oil.
A vote on the union’s removal was conducted by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in November and December. But the ballots were impounded on Dec. 29 by the board so it could review charges filed by the USW alleging Exxon undertook the lockout to force the union’s removal.
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