Unionized workers at Mount Polley Mine have started to return to work after an agreement was reached with the company last week.
United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 president Brian O’Rourke said 79 per cent of union members voted in favour of a new three-year agreement on July 31 and Aug. 1.
“After the company was notified on Thursday morning of the results, some people started getting called back to work immediately,” O’Rourke told the Tribune Tuesday. “I was in the steelworkers office in Williams Lake on Friday and people were coming in saying they were getting calls already.”
The previous agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2017, so the new agreement is effective back to Jan. 1, 2018.
“In year three they will get a two and a half per cent wage increase,” O’Rourke added. “A lot of the wording in the agreement was changed as well as terms for temporary workers. It wasn’t everything the union asked for, but at least we got some numbers around temporary workers and duties.”
Happy that people are back at work after being on a legal strike since May 23, O’Rourke said hopefully “some reality can back into their lives.” Some people have found jobs elsewhere, he added.
Echoing O’Rourke, Mount Polley Mine general manager Dale Reimer said he was looking forward to everyone returning to work.
“It has not been much fun for everyone,” he said of the strike.
Union employees have been returning to work, according to scheduling or giving notice to part-time jobs they may have picked up elsewhere, Reimer said, adding he anticipated it will take about two weeks before everyone has returned.
“We will be bringing them back in stages and as many as we can right away, but some of them are not scheduled to start because of their shift schedule.”
Presently the Mount Polley is continuing with its current mine plan to process stockpiled ore, but will be doing some additional mining in the Cariboo Pit, Reimer confirmed, noting dredging of the Springer Pit is still ongoing and should be completed by the end of the year.
Remediation work for damaged caused by the August 2014 tailings breach continues at the site, including the installation of a fish hatchery about five months ago.
“We put a fish hatchery in and are raising fish in it and it looks like it is quite successful,” Reimer said. “We’ve introduced fish back into the top part of Hazeltine Creek’s first kilometre and a half. We had marvellous results and had fish spawning in there like crazy.”
In the early hours of May 23, Mount Polley Mining Corp. held a three-hour lockout hoping to speed up the bargaining process.
Later that day the union launched a legal strike, and eventually had three picket lines which were manned 24/7 up until last week.
During the strike, the mine continued to operate the mill with non-unionized staff, but eventually switched to an eight-days on and six days off schedule to give staff a break, Reimer said.
On July 16, USW business agent Dan Wil told the Tribune the union was hopeful talks scheduled with the company that week would glean results.
This story was updated from its original version posted Aug. 7 after an interview with mine’s general manager.