Texas refinery workers fight ExxonMobil union busting

Locked-out oil workers fight to defend safety, their union

By Alyson Kennedy
February 7, 2022
Dec. 6, 2021, protest in Houston by ExxonMobil workers. Bosses locked them out May 1, pushed move to decertify union when workers refused to accept dangerous cutbacks.
Reuters/Sabrina ValleDec. 6, 2021, protest in Houston by ExxonMobil workers. Bosses locked them out May 1, pushed move to decertify union when workers refused to accept dangerous cutbacks.

FORT WORTH, Texas — For nine months now 650 members of United Steelworkers Local 13-243 have fought oil giant ExxonMobil bosses’ attempts to break their union. The company marched the workers out of the giant refinery and oil blending facility in Beaumont May 1, locking them out of their jobs, because the union refused to give up long-standing seniority rights and had issued a strike notice.

Union members have maintained picket lines 24/7. They’ve organized a well-stocked food bank and won solidarity from USW locals at other refineries and workers throughout the U.S.

The USW members overwhelmingly rejected a second offer by ExxonMobil Oct. 20 where bosses would have the right to move workers to any position, at any time, regardless of seniority and would eliminate job bidding. Workers reject bosses’ moves to cut the A-operator job, which ensures every crew has an experienced member who can lead in bringing down and starting up production. Unionists say this is key for safety for workers and nearby communities.

In the first talks in months Jan. 6, the union modified its demands on holiday pay and proposed conditions at the plant that would be in line with union contracts at company plants in Baytown, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Bosses rejected the union’s proposals.

The company has aggressively campaigned to get rid of the union, backing a decertification campaign. It claims workers in nonunion Beaumont chemical and polyethylene plants have better pay and pensions. “We look forward to returning employees to work as we agree on a new union contract,” the company told the media. It adds, “If the union is decertified, we will also welcome back every single employee” — making clear their objective is to get rid of the union.

The decertification petition was filed Oct. 4 with the National Labor Relations Board that scheduled an election. Pro-company workers charge that union “officers, agents and representatives have restrained and coerced employees.”

The union also filed charges in December, saying ExxonMobil violated NLRB regulations by promising to end the lockout if the union is decertified and they were not providing the union with proper information. “We hope this lets the company know they need to get back to the bargaining table,” Bryan Gross, USW international representative, told the press.

The NLRB impounded the ballots after charges were laid, saying it wouldn’t count them until charges were resolved.

The Beaumont complex produces 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline per year and Mobil 1 automobile oil. Bosses are trying to keep production going using managers and strikebreakers. Demand for oil is now higher than before the pandemic.

The USW has begun negotiations with Marathon Petroleum Corporation for a new contract that covers 30,000 oil refinery and chemical workers nationwide. These negotiations are aimed at setting the pattern for other refineries.

Send donations and support to USW Local 13-243, 2490 South 11th St, Beaumont, Texas 77701, Tel.: (409) 842-3952.