© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Steelworkers union members picket outside the Exxon Mobil Beaumont, after being locked out of the plant by the company, in Beaumont, Texas, U.S., May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Erwin Seba
By Erwin Seba
BEAUMONT, Texas (Reuters) -Exxon Mobil Corp said a 10-month lockout of union workers at a southeast Texas refinery would end on March 7 following acceptance of a return-to-work agreement on Saturday.
“Employees will return to work beginning March 7, 2022, with their exact date of return depending on their normally scheduled shift,” the company said in a message to employees on Saturday afternoon.
Nearly 600 locked-out workers represented by United Steelworkers union (USW) Local 13-243 on Saturday approved the agreement that sets the terms for returning to the refinery where they were locked out on May 1, 2021, said USW International Representative Bryan Gross, following the vote.
“It’s been a long fight,” Gross said. “It’s finally coming to an end. It’s not where we wanted it to be, but we’ll continue fighting for our membership and we’ll move forward.”
Saturday’s vote follows ratification on Feb. 21 of a new six-year contract, ceding to the company a key demand for control of all job assignments in the 369,024 barrel-per-day refinery and adjoining Mobil 1 lubrication oil plant.
Exxon (NYSE:XOM) began the lockout to avoid a threatened strike after three months of negotiations failed to yield an agreement.
Exxon had previously said contract ratification and a return agreement were needed before the lockout would end if the workers did not remove the USW from the refinery.
The union’s future at the refinery will remain up in the air until the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counts the ballots from a vote concluded in December to remove Local 13-243 from the plant. The vote was called for by 30% of the union’s membership.
The NLRB impounded the ballots until it completes an investigation into the USW’s charges that Exxon began the lockout to force the union’s removal.