DALLAS — Members of United Steelworkers Local 13-243 have maintained their picket lines at the ExxonMobil Refinery and Lubricant Blending and Packaging Plant in Beaumont, Texas, since being locked out over five months ago. After the 650 union members refused to accept a “last, best and final” contract offer that would give up long-standing seniority rights and create separate contracts for the refinery and lubricant plant, bosses marched them out of the facilities May 1.
“We met with the company last Monday,” USW staff representative Bryan Gross told the Militant. “For the first time since the lockout began they made an amendment to their contract proposal. They’re trying to make it out that these are big moves toward an agreement. These were sent to the membership.
“Exxon still wants separate seniority lists for the refinery and the lube plant, but it would not separate the lists when it comes to layoffs,” he said. “But we need answers and clarifications before we call a membership meeting. Once we get the answers we will call a meeting.
“We are still getting a lot of support from the Texas AFL-CIO and USW locals that helps keep the food pantry open twice a week.”
The large union hall is lined with shelves, racks and freezers to hold thousands of food items, household goods, bathroom products, fresh meat and anything else donated for strikers to take.
Exxon demands the union vote to accept their contract by Nov. 1 or the bosses will remove a $500 signing bonus as well as the right to arbitrate over being fired or resigning. And, Gross said, the company still wants to do away with job bidding.
“The company is playing a game in the newspaper like they are making an effort,” said USW member Earl Miller, who pickets in front of the lube plant where he works. “We are waiting on a proposal that won’t hurt the brothers and sisters. They still want to take away the A-operator, which is the first line of quality assurance on the unit. This is a safety issue.
“We are holding on and doing our part to stay strong. Our unemployment will run out soon. The medical Cobra extension is ended, so if you want health insurance you have to pay $1,500. The union helps us with bills.” Given the sizable concentration of refineries in eastern Texas, the outcome of this labor battle has important stakes for the working class as a whole. As the bosses and government move to tighten the squeeze on the strikers, getting the word out about the fight and winning support is crucial.
Donations and letters of solidarity can be sent to USW Local 13-243, 2490 S. 11th St., Beaumont, TX 77701.