HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp and the United Steelworkers union traded proposals on Tuesday for a labor contract covering Exxon's refinery in Beaumont, Texas, that could be for as long as seven or eight years, union officials said.
That would be roughly double the length of the contract under a tentative national agreement reached last week, which would cover about 30,000 workers for four years.
Exxon had been pushing for a five-year contract for hourly workers at the 344,600 barrel per day (bpd) Beaumont refinery, which is the company's third-largest. Work at the refinery has continued during labor negotiations under an extension of the prior contract.
Sources familiar with Exxon's plans have said the longer agreement was sought, in part, because the company is considering an expansion at the Beaumont refinery that could more than double its size.
Exxon has said its wants to assure stability for the company and its employees.
The four-year industry-wide agreement reached last week by the USW and lead U.S. refinery owner representative Royal Dutch Shell Plc is one year longer than previous contracts; it would end a strike that began on Feb. 1.
On Tuesday, Exxon offered USW local union 13-243 representing Beaumont refinery workers the current four-year national agreement plus an additional two years.
USW local 13-243 negotiators countered with the current national agreement, often referred to as the pattern agreement, plus the next national agreement, which would amount to a seven- or eight-year contract for workers at the Beaumont refinery.
"It's unprecedented," USW local 13-243's president, Robert Hill, said. "It could be a seven- or eight-year deal."
An Exxon spokesman said the company would like to move to an agreement that is not tied to the pattern bargaining cycle.
"We seek to maintain the competitive position and unique advantages of the Beaumont refinery, which drive our interest in moving to a non-pattern term," Exxon spokesman Todd Spitler said.
At its non-pattern sites, Exxon offers better terms than those in the national pattern agreement, Spitler said.
"We remain hopeful that this process will be successful and result in a mutually acceptable contract."
The union, however, has a different view on company's preference for non-pattern terms. Hill said the goal seems to be to reduce the leverage of USW-represented workers at the Beaumont refinery by moving the contract out of sync with the national pattern.
"They just want to get us off of the pattern date," Hill said.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Leslie Adler)