Officials from the local refineries and the United Steelworkers International said that they’ve agreed on a rolling 24-hour contract extension, temporarily averting a possible strike in the Billings area.
ExxonMobil spokeswoman Pam Malek, from the company’s Lockwood refinery, said the two sides reached the agreement Tuesday night during negotiations on a contract that was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The USW put ExxonMobil Corp. on notice that it would strike at its Billings refinery if an agreement is not reached. It sent a similar notice to Valero Energy Corp. regarding a refinery in Texas.
Wade Johnson, president of the USW ConocoPhillips union, said the rolling extension extends the old labor agreement, preventing a strike at Exxon for at least a day, and ensures that 24-hours notice must be given by either side before a work stoppage.
Negotiators at ConocoPhillips have reached a tentative agreement, he said, while talks continue with Exxon. Johnson said he did not have information on if an agreement had been made at the CHS Inc. refinery in Laurel.
Travis Sloan, Conoco spokesman, said each company has specific issues on the table with the union but remained optimistic that they could find a solution.
“We fully expect to reach an agreement,” he said.
Talks are expected to resume on Wednesday.
Nationally, refining companies, led by Shell Oil Co., and the USW have been in contract negotiations since mid January.
They announced an agreement on the national front at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, reaching a tentative 3-year-agreement on which union members must vote in the coming weeks.
Locally, talks continued into the evening at the Exxon, Conoco and CHS Inc. refineries and likely will through at least Wednesday.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” Malek said. “We’re actively engaged in good-faith negotiations at this point.”
Refineries throughout the country have been in negotiations with the United Steelworkers International. Locally and nationally, most refinery labor agreements expire just after midnight every three years.
At the CHS Refinery in Laurel, refinery and union officials have been meeting almost every day for more than three weeks, said Pat Kimmet, refinery manager, and Keith Crookston, union local president, in a joint statement.
“Our local discussions have been very productive and progress has been made. We have tentative agreement on most issues, although there are some remaining issues that we will work to resolve early this week,” Kimmet and Crookston said. “We are hopeful that we will reach a mutually acceptable agreement on all local issues.”
USW Local No. 11-443 represents about 200 workers at the CHS refinery.
Talks at the ConocoPhillips refinery have been under way for the past few weeks and are continuing, Sloan said.
“We’re committed to reaching a new labor agreement that is good for our employees, customers, shareholders and the Billings community,” he said. “We have not received any notice of a strike at our facility.”
However, the refinery has contingency plans in place in case it does receive notice.
“All of the ConocoPhillips refineries that could be affected by a labor action are prepared to operate using personnel who are fully trained to safely operate the refineries so we can continue to meet the needs of our customers,” Sloan said.
ConocoPhillips has about 300 employees in Billings, of which about 200 are USW members.
Malek said the company does not discuss details during negotiations.
The three refineries are all Class 7 employers, meaning each employs between 250 to 500 workers, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
The USW said at the start of talks that a national strike at all 69 U.S. facilities would crimp two-thirds of U.S. oil refining. A nationwide shutdown hasn’t occurred since 1980.