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Exxon, USW may meet next week to resume Texas refinery contract talks

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FILE PHOTO: An Exxon gas station is seen in Houston
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By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil may meet next week with negotiators following rejection of a company contract proposal by Beaumont, Texas, refinery workers, the United Steelworkers union (USW) said on Friday.

Union workers turned down a proposed six-year contract on Tuesday, leaving a lockout in place while the two sides seek an agreement. Exxon said after the vote it would leave the last offer on the table until Nov. 1.

Exxon has told the USW it might be willing to meet next week, said USW International union representative Bryan Gross, after passing up a chance for talks this week.

"After notifying the corporation that their proposal had been rejected, USW leadership reached out to Exxon Mobil to meet this week, including nights or weekends, only to have Exxon Mobil decline to meet this week," a union Local 13-243 statement said.

An Exxon spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

The plant's union could face a separate decertification vote next month. A petition seeking to remove the union from the facility is before the National Labor Relations Board.

"They are dragging things out to see what happens with the decertification petition or get to the Nov. 1 deadline," the USW's Gross said. "They're going to have to realize they can't take their ball and go home."

Exxon on May 1 locked out 650 hourly workers at the 369,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery and adjoining lubricant oil plant, continuing to operate with managers and temporary employees. Its proposed contract provisions are needed to assure profitability in even low-margin environments, the company has said.

If a new contract is not reached by Nov 1, Exxon has said it would eliminate worker pay raises for this year, remove a contract signing bonus and some job-protection provisions.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Gary Williams and David Gregorio)

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