Unionized workers at Nyrstar’s Myra Falls mine walked off the job June 3 in an effort to move contract negotiations along.
“Bargaining just broke down,” said Jim Dixon, UNIFOR national representative Jim Dixon. “We’re too far apart.”
The issue from the union’s point of view is to bring wages back to a level prior to previous contracts negotiated to help the company sell the mine. A closure agreement had been negotiated with the company when the mine was closed in 2015 and then a subsequent agreement was negotiated in 2017 to help the company sell the operation. Those contracts contained a lot of concessions to make the mine more appealing to a buyer.
“And so during all that time, of course, there was no wage increases and in 2017 when we negotiated there was a lot of concessions given to try to make it more appealing to someone to buy it,” Dixon said. “The company assured us they were going to sell it. Anyway, they didn’t end up selling it.”
The company ended up opening the mine, instead, and it had just recently got back up to full production, Dixon said.
“So the issues at the bargaining table are to start to address some of the concessions during the term of this agreement and start to bring the wages back, once you adjust for inflation, to where we were in 2014.”
Dixon said that contract negotiations hadn’t reached an impasse, per se, it was just that the two sides were just too far apart.
UNIFOR local 3019 members have been without a contract since the last one expired in October, 2020. Negotiations for a new contract got underway just before that time with the previous owners and what ended up happening was the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to continue negotiations, so talks were slowed down. Then at the end of last year, new owners Trafigura took control of Nyrstar and essentially replaced the management that UNIFOR was negotiating with.
“They asked to sort of step down talks until they could get into position to get the new management in place,” Dixon said.
Consequently, negotiations didn’t really get back on track until April of this year.
Dixon said he could see the strike going either way, settling relatively quickly or going on for some time. He said the members, 312 of whom are on strike, are frustrated by the situation which he believes may be a holdover from the previous ownership.
“But it’s really about getting a fair contract,” Dixon said.
The company has spent a lot of money to acquire the mine and get it up and running, he said, so they’ve lost a lot of money over the past few years but mineral prices are really high and productivity is actually really high.
“So, I think there’s a lot of money to be made and so our members just want to start recouping some of the concessions that they made to try and get the mine back to this position,” Dixon said. “Trafigura is a huge company. They are a multinational company. They have deep pockets so we’re hoping they come to their senses and realize that they’re better to have a fair contract with us and having us mine the ore than it is to have us sitting on a picket line.”