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Elkview miners back to work

Striking Elkview miners returned to work Friday after accepting an agreement with Teck.

The new five-year agreement ends a labour dispute that began in January, when more than 700 members of United Steelworkers Local 9346 walked out of the open pit mine and set up picket lines.

“The membership voted 59 per cent in favour of accepting the agreement and went back to work Friday,” said Marcia Smith, Vice President of Corporate Affairs. “We are really pleased that people are back to work.”

The agreement, which was tentatively announced Monday, replaces one which expired at the end of October last year.

It follows an earlier deal that was voted down by the union members.

Union president Chris Nand said he would have preferred a larger majority to have voted in favour of the offer.

“I am glad the workers are back to work but I have mixed feelings,” he said. “It is hard to read the membership – I think maybe they wanted more company contribution to the retirement savings plans. Teck only agreed to a two per cent increase instead of a nine, which we originally asked for. However the company has addressed our two biggest issues in this agreement and we live in a democracy, so that’s just the way it goes.”

The Elkview mine, located three kilometres east of Sparwood, has a workforce of 850. 692 of those are unionized employees, according to Teck. The workers have been without a contract since October 31, when the last deal expired.

The Elkview facility has the capacity to mine 5.6 million tonnes of coal per year, second to the Fording River mine, with a capacity of eight million tonnes per year.

The labour contract at Fording River expires April 30.

Teck cut its 2011 guidance for coal production last month by about one million tonnes due to a tough winter and the Elkview labour dispute.

The company said it expected coal sales in 2011 to be between 23.5 tonnes and 24.5 million tonnes, compared to previously announced guidance of 24.5 to 25.5 million tonnes.

The reduction followed an earlier announcement that the company would sell between 4.6 million and 4.9 million tonnes of coal compared with an average of 5.3 million tonnes in recent years.

At the time, the company said the strike had not been a significant reason for the lower sales as deliveries of Elkview coal from inventory continued.

Teck is Canada’s largest diversified miner, focused on copper, steelmaking coal and zinc. It also owns an interest in a large oilsands project.

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