Exxon Mobil makes deal to avert refinery strike

Exxon Mobil Corp. appears to have averted a strike at one of the nation’s largest sources of gasoline and other petroleum products after reaching a tentative agreement with a union there.

A local chapter of the United Steelworkers union had issued a notice Monday that it planned to strike at Exxon Mobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery if the company did not go along with safety proposals from workers there.

Exxon Mobil and a union spokesman said Friday that the parties had reached a tentative agreement that will now go before union members for approval.

“Exxon Mobil Baytown can confirm that the Company and the USW have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year labor contract,” Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Patty Errico said in an email. “We look forward to moving ahead together and maintaining the good working relationships our employees share with us and one another.”

United Steelworkers spokesman Richard Landry said Exxon Mobil agreed to new safety protocols, including limits on the consecutive days an employee can work at the refinery.

Those fatigue-related standards were developed by a group of workers and company representatives working with the American Petroleum Institute to reduce risk and improve performance, Landry said. Exxon Mobil had resisted incorporating the standards at the Baytown refinery prior to Monday’s strike notice, he said.

“It puts specific time limits on how many days that an employee can work in a row,” Landry said. “There are no standards today that basically state how many days an employee can work in a row… and it has created problems in the oil industry because people are not on the top of their game.”

The new tentative agreement also included a provision that would train a “process safety representative” to identify gaps in safety that could be improved, Landry said. He would not offer details on the training or the representative in advance of discussions with Baytown workers next week about the agreement.

Baytown workers are set to vote on the agreement by May 15. Until then, preparation for a strike at the plant have been suspended, Landry said.

Errico would not offer details on the temporary agreement.

“We all remain committed to a strong safety culture and will continue our longstanding tradition at Exxon Mobil Baytown of working together to ensure safe and reliable operations,” Errico said.

Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery is among the largest in the world. At a capacity of 573,000 barrels of oil per day, it is the nation’s second largest refinery after Motiva, a refinery in Port Arthur that is jointly owned by Shell and Saudi Aramco.