Union picketers are ‘holding strong’

Union workers at the Elkview mine near Sparwood say they are “holding strong” after going on strike 11 days ago over a new labour contract.

United Steelworkers Local 9346 at the picket line at Elkview mine.

United Steelworkers Local 9346 at the picket line at Elkview mine.

Union workers at the Elkview mine near Sparwood say they are “holding strong” after going on strike 11 days ago over a new labour contract.

The more than 700 members of United Steelworkers Local 9346 walked out at the open pit mine on January 30.

The union’s local president, Chris Nand, said the workers set up five picket lines and are not moving.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “We are hopeful that they will call us and arrange to meet with us to discuss the situation but for now we are waiting.”

Union members have been without a contract since October 31, and voted 98.2 per cent in favour of striking two weeks ago.

Among outstanding issues are the employer’s contribution levels to the workers’ registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and retiree benefits.

The union’s local president, Chris Nand, said he and members of the union’s bargaining committee had met with Teck on January 30 and the company had presented them a package that they were not happy with.

Nic Milligan of Teck Coal told The Free Press there had been an orderly shutdown at the mine on Sunday, January 30, and production has ceased for the time being.

“The mine is still parked,” he said. “We made an offer to the union on January 30 and that still stands. We are still hopeful to reach a fair agreement and are waiting for a call from the union.”

Nand said the key sticking points for the union are an increase in employer contributions to its employee registered pension plan and the extension of medical benefits to retirees.

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.