Union calls on Exxon to continue Texas refinery contract talks despite lockout threat

The United Steelworkers union (USW) called on ExxonMobil to continue negotiations for a new Beaumont, Texas, refinery contract despite the company's threat to lock out workers on May 1 if there is no agreement.

"These negotiations are not about wages,” said Darrell Kyle, president of USW Local 13-243, which represents 650 workers at the 369,024 barrel-per-day (bpd) Beaumont refinery and adjoining blending and packaging plant.

“Our greatest concern is making sure our lives and our jobs are safe and secure," Kyle said in a statement issued by the union.

Exxon spokeswoman Julie King said Exxon issued the lockout notice on Friday to union negotiators.

"We have made extensive efforts to reach an agreement, but it appears the union is unwilling to accept our offer to resolve the outstanding differences on the issues," King said.

Kyle said the lockout notice came after the USW offered a one-year extension of the six-year pact agreed to in 2015.

“It would allow our members to maintain their job security and safely operate the facility while the two sides continue to bargain for a fair and equitable agreement, without the risk of a work stoppage,” Kyle said of the proposed extension.

The two sides have been negotiating for a new contract since Jan. 11. At the start a 75-day labor peace period on Feb. 15, Exxon issued a lockout notice and the USW issued a strike notice both to take effect on May 1 if there was no new agreement or an extension to the notices was not granted.

Such notices at the beginning of contract talks are not unusual in labor negotiations.

In a lockout, a company prevents employees from entering.

Exxon has been training company managers and engineers to take over for union employees in a work stoppage. (Reporting by Erwin Seba, Editing by Franklin Paul and Marguerita Choy)

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