ExxonMobil Refuses to Agree to Health and Safety Language during Talks for New Contract at Baytown Complex

Local 13-2001 gives 60-day notice to strike if contract not reached 

Baytown, Texas—A possible lockout or strike could occur June 15 at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery, chemical plant and laboratory if  company management continues to reject contract language that would improve health and safety at the largest petroleum and petrochemical complex in the U.S. 

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-2001 at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, complex proposed health and safety language from the 2012 National Oil Bargaining agreement during three weeks of negotiations with the company, but management refused to accept it in its last, best and final offer given April 15. 

This lack of acceptance of health and safety language prompted Local 13-2001 to issue a required 60-day notice to terminate the contract and go out on strike. The local union agreement contains an “industrial peace” clause that provides a 60-day period where both sides abide by the existing contract while they work to reach an acceptable agreement.

Shortly after Local 13-2001 issued its notice, ExxonMobil issued its required 60-day lockout notice to the local union.

Since then, both sides met one time on April 19 to negotiate the contract. Another bargaining session has been scheduled for May 3, 2013.

“We’re confident that an agreement can be reached with ExxonMobil and a strike averted,” said Richard “Hoot” Landry, USW District 13 staff representative. “The health and safety language we proposed was the same language in the 2012 National Oil Bargaining (NOB) agreement that ExxonMobil agreed to for its facilities in Torrance, Calif., Billings, Mont., Chalmette, La., and Beaumont, Texas.

“Our union developed this language to help the oil companies do a better job at process safety so that problems can be detected before they result in fires, explosions, releases and other incidents that impact the health and safety of our workers and the local community.”

The health and safety language in the NOB agreement that ExxonMobil approved at other sites contains provisions for a union process safety representative, process safety training, fatigue prevention and an annual site process safety review.

Process safety is a blend of engineering and management skills focused on preventing catastrophic accidents, particularly explosions, fires, and toxic releases associated with the use of highly hazardous chemicals and petroleum products.

“ExxonMobil negotiators said they didn’t want the USW international union dictating health and safety language to them. They said they (ExxonMobil) were the leaders in safety,” Landry said. “They said they didn’t need a letter of agreement the USW was pushing for health and safety because they were a safe plant to begin with.

“ExxonMobil also refused to implement RP 755, a recommended practice on fatigue that their own people helped to develop with the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade association.”

For being a “leader in safety,” ExxonMobil has been involved in some high-profile events recently. One month ago in Arkansas the company’s ruptured pipeline dumped 500,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil, thousands of which flooded into a residential community. A fire at the Beaumont complex on April 17 injured 12 contract workers; three of them were critically burned. Six contractors are still in the hospital.

The USW reviewed three years of refinery events from Feb. 1, 2009 to Jan. 31, 2012—the contract term of the previous NOB agreement—to review ExxonMobil’s process safety record overall and at the Baytown facility. These events had been listed on the Department of Energy website, and only reflected those events that ExxonMobil or the media had reported. Many process safety near misses and events go unreported because they are below reporting thresholds, even though they are signs of trouble within the refining process.

During this three-year period ExxonMobil had 185 process safety events at its facilities, 57 of them occurred at the Baytown complex. Twenty-one leaks or spills also occurred during that time at Baytown. There were numerous emissions events. To see this listing, click HERE.

“ExxonMobil likes to think it has a better health and safety culture than other oil companies, but their process safety record shows they have room for improvement,” Landry said. “Our proposal increases employee involvement, provides for process safety training and review, and delivers a solution to worker fatigue that ExxonMobil and the industry’s trade organization designed.

“The National Oil Bargaining health and safety language is a win-win solution for ExxonMobil, the Baytown complex and the surrounding community, and I’m optimistic the company will realize this and become partners with us in health and safety. It’s not like they can’t afford it. The company earned $9.5 billion the first quarter this year.”

Local 13-2001 represents about 850 workers in production, maintenance and the laboratory at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery, chemical plant and laboratory.

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. The union represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector.