By Erwin Seba
(Reuters) -A U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge on Monday ordered Exxon Mobil Corp to make whole 1,800 employees at two refineries for lost earnings during a suspension of employer contributions to a 401K plan in 2020 and 2021.
Exxon suspended the matching employer contributions for all employees between Oct. 1, 2020 and Oct. 1, 2021 to save money while sustaining heavy financial losses during the downturn in fuel demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administrative Law Judge Christal Key said in a ruling accompanying the order that Exxon engaged in bad-faith bargaining while meeting with United Steelworkers (USW) union locals representing workers at the company’s refineries in Baytown, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“(Exxon’s) conduct establishes that they came to the bargaining table with, a mere pretense at negotiations, a completely closed mind and no intent to reach an agreement,” Key wrote.
Exxon spokesperson Todd Spitler said on Tuesday the company disagrees with Key’s ruling and would appeal.
Key noted that Exxon’s benefits manager signed the order suspending the company’s match in mid-September after only one bargaining session each with the Baytown and Baton Rouge locals.
Both locals continued to offer proposals, some of which Key said were within the $7.5 million to $8.7 million range Exxon told the unions would be saved by suspending the matching payments.
The ruling must be reviewed by the NLRB, which also hears appeals.
Mike Smith, chair of the USW’s National Oil Bargaining Program, said the union was gratified by Key’s ruling about Exxon’s “outrageous” denial of benefits to workers.
“Our union is committed to holding Exxon Mobil accountable and will continue to fight until the workers are made whole,” Smith said in an emailed statement.
(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)