Labour peace at Highland Valley Copper

By James Peters
August 10, 2017 - 6:44am Updated: August 10, 2017 - 6:38pm

LOGAN LAKE, B.C. — Nearly 1,000 members of the United Steelworkers can look forward to four years of labour peace.

The members of USW Local 7619 ratified a five-year contract with Teck Highland Valley Copper this week, taking the deal with a strong 84 per cent ratification vote.

Mediators Vince Ready and Corinn Bell were part of the negotiation process.

Union President Kyle Wolff says concessions initially presented by the company are not part of the deal.

"They wanted a two-tiered pension system, they wanted casual labour, they wanted to eliminate our seniority rights," said Wolff. "These are big issues for us. They've been around for a long time, and directly affect the people who work there."

The contract, which will expire in 2021, also includes language improving apprenticeship opportunities and overtime policies.

In a statement, Highland Valley General Manager Greg Brouwer said the company is happy with the deal.

"We are pleased to have reached a collective agreement that is fair and reasonable to our employees and supports the ongoing viability of the operation," said Brouwer.

The union president believes an overwhelming strike mandate presented by the union was a turning point.

"I think the strike vote was definitely a turn for the company. A 99.8 per cent strike vote with 890 people that came out definitely sends a strong message that the concessions that were on the table needed to go. With that clear message, I believe the company came back to the table with an actual ability to make a deal. When the concessions started to fall away, we started to solve problems and we got to a deal."

Wolff says bargaining has been taking place for nearly a year, and he's looking forward to a new environment between the union and the company.

"It was a long, long, long round of bargaining; 11 months total, 31 different meetings with this company. Finally, we got to a deal I was satisfied with, and I brought it to the members, and obviously they're satisfied, too."

"It will be four years before we get back at this. Part of the conversation we had at the table was trying to instil some labour peace," Wolff added. 

"We've been at this for a long time and there's been a real fight between the company and the union. Part of the conversation we had at the table was to reset some things. Hopefully, we can get back into a situation where we're both working together to make the company prosper and we excel with that as well."

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