Exxon refinery dispute centers on seniority, pay, demand for vote

United Steelworkers (USW) union members picket outside Exxon Mobil's oil refinery amid a contract dispute in Beaumont, Texas, U.S., May 1, 2021. Exxon locked out the plant's about 650 union-represented employees citing fears of a strike. Picture taken May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Erwin Seba/

HOUSTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Disputes over seniority rights and pay for union workers at Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) Beaumont, Texas, refinery led to Saturday’s first lockout at the 118-year-old plant, according to people familiar with the matter.

Workers represented by the United Steelworkers union (USW) walked picket lines for a third day outside the gates of the refinery and its lube oil plant. No talks took place and no proposals were swapped on Monday between two sides, the people said.

The oil company on Saturday barred about 650 USW Local 13-243 members from the complex, citing the union's refusal to call for a vote on its contract proposal. Exxon also feared the workers might strike, officials said. read more

The two sides mostly disagree on Exxon's call for revising seniority rules, the people said. Refinery workers spend their entire careers on one processing unit, gaining seniority preferences for scheduling, hours and job stability, they said.

"The company's proposals would undermine our seniority," one of the people said. "Seniority affects our vacations, our job security and our safety."

Exxon spokeswoman Julie King said on Monday: "We remain far apart on many important items."

She declined to comment on specific proposals, but said "many provisions sought by the union are not part of other existing contracts the company has with the United Steelworkers."

Exxon "has bargained in good-faith since the parties started negotiating in January," King said. Future talks "will be determined jointly by the company and the union."

Exxon has said its contract proposal would maintain "the company's ability to compete over a range of economic conditions, including periods of low industry margins."

The USW separately filed complaints with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board against Exxon, accusing it of refusing to bargain, of repudiating or modifying their agreement, and of coercion.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; editing by Richard Pullin

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