BEAUMONT, Texas — Over 650 members of United Steelworkers Local 13-243 are picketing 24/7 at the ExxonMobil Refinery and Lubricant Blending and Packaging plant here since they were locked out by the bosses May 1. They’re standing up to the oil bosses’ drive to make union-gutting changes to their contract. They were locked out after the company rejected a union proposal to extend the 2015 contract for another year to facilitate negotiations.
“The company is trying to bust the union. I don’t think they have any other objective,” Darrell Kyle, president of USW Local 13-243, told the Militant May 26. Kyle has worked at the refinery for 26 years and is an A-operator. “The biggest issues are safety, job security and seniority.
“The A-operator is the experienced one on the crew who knows how to bring down and start up the units during a shutdown. Now Exxon wants to eliminate these jobs and let any operator do it,” he said. “They want to do away with 100% of the bids. Before 1996, all the jobs were bids, then it was cut to 25%. Now they want to take this away altogether.”
The first thing you see when you walk into the USW union hall here is a huge room full of shelves of canned nonperishable food items, laundry detergent, diapers and other baby gear, and a big freezer full of meats and poultry. “We just opened up this food bank,” Kyle explained. “All of this is donated from union locals at the other refineries and plants in this area.” The Houston area is a center for the oil industry in the U.S.
“The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are letting us use their union hall to process payments from the USW international union for mortgages, rents and bills for the locked-out unionists,” he said.
Protest at ExxonMobil headquarters
On May 26 members of the local took a bus to picket the ExxonMobil headquarters in Irving. They were joined by union supporters from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Carlos Soto, one of the locked-out workers, told the Dallas Morning News that while he wasn’t at work when the company locked the workers out of the refinery, he heard all about it. “They walked them out to the gate like criminals, you know, like they didn’t even trust us to walk ourselves out,” he said.
“They are trying to separate the blending and packaging plant from the refinery,” John Porter told us as he got back to Beaumont after the Irving protest. He and his wife Christy had gone together.
Porter has worked at the blending and packaging plant for 23 years, a contractor for six and an Exxon employee the last 17. “Exxon wants to take away company-wide seniority bidding on jobs. I’m an A operator. We blend the oils like Mobil One, then another department packages it.”
“I’ve been walking the picket lines 10 to 12 hours a day with my husband,” Christy Porter said. “This is the first time I’ve been to a rally.
“The first days of the lockout, the company made the supervisors stay in the plants. They wouldn’t let them leave. Their wives showed up on the picket line asking us where their husbands are,” she said. “We said we don’t know, ask them, pointing to Exxon.”
“I worked as a contractor for 10 years at the refinery. Then I got hired at the blending and packaging plant by Exxon, starting my seniority all over,” Markus Malone said while we were walking the picket line in front of the plant. “We work 12-hour shifts. It gets very hot in the plant but Exxon doesn’t allow mandatory heat-stress breaks that the refinery workers get because they say we work inside.”
The 2,700-acre Beaumont complex is Exxon’s third-largest U.S. refinery. The bosses are running the facility, using managers and scab replacement workers.
Donations and letters of support can be sent to USW Local 13-243, 2490 South 11th St., Beaumont, TX 77701. Tel.: (409) 842-3952.