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Deal reached to end 2-month Kitimat smelter strike

·2 min read
 An aerial view of Kitimat, B.C., where Rio Tinto operates its aluminum smelter. More than 950 Unifor members are set to vote on a new collective agreement with Rio Tinto, potentially ending a two month strike. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
An aerial view of Kitimat, B.C., where Rio Tinto operates its aluminum smelter. More than 950 Unifor members are set to vote on a new collective agreement with Rio Tinto, potentially ending a two month strike. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Mining giant Rio Tinto and Unifor Local 2301 have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, potentially ending a two-month long strike that impacted the B.C. North Coast economy throughout the summer.

"Both parties are satisfied that the proposed agreement will provide a foundation for respect in the workplace and underpin a competitive and sustainable future for B.C. Works, benefiting employees and their families, the company, and the broader community," Rio Tinto and the union announced in a joint statement released Sept. 25, 2021.

Some 950 smelter and hydroelectric plant workers will vote on the deal in the coming days. Ratification of the proposed collective agreement will end a bitter two-month long strike at Rio Tinto's B.C. Works operations.

According to the statement, both parties have also reached an agreement for a memorandum of understanding on a new way of working together and on a return-to-work protocol.

They have agreed to not publish details on the proposed agreement until Unifor 2301 has completed the ratification process.

The strike began at the Kitimat smelter on July 25, after talks broke off when the parties failed to reach agreement on resolving hundreds of outstanding grievances and a new process to resolve disputes.

The previous collective agreement expired earlier this year.

The smelter continued to operate, under an essential services order granted by the B.C. Labour Relations Board, at 25 per cent capacity of its normal 432,000 tonne annual capacity.

Kitimat welcomes deal

"Oh, it's absolutely massive," said Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth in response to the announcement of the agreement.

"There hasn't been a more stable job supporter, income supporter, in the whole history of Kitimat. Let's face it, it's the whole reason we exist," he told CBC News.

Some local businesses reported a 30 per cent drop in sales as the strike dragged on through the summer, and some sub-contractors shifted work to the region's LNG Canada project.

"Every single business has felt an impact of the strike," Germuth said, noting the economic impact could be felt through the North Coast.

"The community is happy about [the agreement]. We're happy about it. No doubt the workers will be happy, the contractors, and of course, lets not forget about Rio Tinto. Aluminum is at a much higher price than it has been for over a decade now and it's good for them too to get back to producing aluminum," he said.

"There's definitely that feeling in the town of elation that soon this is over and we can start to get back to normal."

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