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Kitimat smelter and Kemano power operations workers vote unanimously in favour of a strike

The union decided that a strike is the most efficient way to get their demands across to the company
A Unifor Local 2301 poster that highlights the Rio Tinto and Kemano workers are looking for jobs, pensions, benefits, health, safety, community, and respect within their new collective agreement. (Unifor Local 2301 poster)

Rio Tinto workers at the smelter in Kitimat and power operations in Kemano have unanimously voted in favour of a strike.

According to a Unifor Local 2301 news bulletin, which represents the workers at the smelter, this is the first time in history the union has voted 100 per cent in favour of a strike.

Unifor Local 2301 and Rio Tinto began discussing a new collective agreement with face-to-face bargaining back in June but weren’t able to make any progress.

Now with the collective agreement ending on July 23, the union decided that a strike is the most efficient way to get their demands across to the company.

Though the union stated in a previous news bulletin they aren’t firmly attached to the demands made, they are very firm that the issues represented must be resolved during the bargaining process.

“Our philosophy for 2021 bargaining remains the same, ‘we aren’t necessarily married to our demands as they are written, but we are married to resolving the issues they represent.’ After six weeks of bargaining and your support we are more driven than ever,” Unifor Local 2301 stated in the news bulletin earlier this week.

Neither Unifor nor Rio Tinto have provided details as to what’s involved in contract talks, the union says points include jobs, pensions, benefits, health, safety, community and respect.

A national representative for Unifor 2301, Mario Santos, and a national pension and benefits specialist for the union arrived in town earlier this month to work with the bargaining committee from now until the expiry, this Friday. However, the negotiations committee determined a lack of progress in Rio Tinto’s action towards the union’s demands.

“Since the strike vote, the company has shown little interest in addressing our issues,” Unifor Local 2301 stated in the news bulletin.

In a written statement to The Northern Sentinel, a Rio Tinto spokesperson stated they remain focused on working with the union to reach a mutually beneficial agreement without a labour dispute.

“These negotiations are an opportunity for us to demonstrate we can work together to achieve an agreement that provides a platform for a sustainable business for decades to come – this is in everyone’s best interest,” the Rio Tinto spokesperson stated.

Unifor in Kitimat is no stranger to labour disputes as Unifor 2300 went through a 100-day strike back in 2015 against the District of Kitimat.

The agreement eventually reached set a minimum number of permanent staff that must be maintained, including replacing retiring workers. The raises were also in line with those negotiated between Unifor Local 2301 and Rio Tinto Alcan at that time.

READ MORE: Tentative deal reached for new collective agreement between Unifor 2300 and Kitimat