Locked in labour negotiations, Pugwash salt miners oppose company contingency plan

25 Aug 2021 7:09 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

ROGER TAYLOR: Locked in labour negotiations, Pugwash salt miners oppose company contingency plan | SaltWire

The 140 unionized workers at the Windsor Salt mine in Pugwash could be facing a lockout or strike if the company’s offer is rejected in a membership vote next week.

“One of the big (sticking points) is retro pay. . . . Another one would be the pension,” says Unifor Local 823 president Mark Sheffar.

“We’ve been out of a contract since October 2020 and, you know, they really haven’t shown a whole lot of interest in bargaining,” Sheffar said in an interview.

“We sat down a couple times and they really don’t seem interested in bargaining at all.”

In an email, Windsor Salt indicated it “is committed to building productive working relationships with our employees and partners. We have presented an offer we believe is fair, comprehensive and competitive, and serves both operational and employee needs at our Pugwash mine. We look forward to an upcoming employee vote on the matter.”

However, Sheffar said, he has concerns about what the company is proposing, therefore neither he nor the bargaining committee will be supporting the company’s offer when it comes to a vote Aug. 26.

This is the first contract negotiation between the union and the new owner of the mine, California’s Stone Canyon Industries Holdings Inc., which acquired the Pugwash operation in April as part of a US$3.2-billion acquisition of the North American assets held by K+S Aktiengesellschaft AG, based in Kassel, Germany.

All of the K+S facilities in Canada were under the Windsor Salt umbrella, which in turn was under Morton Salt management in the U.S. Both are now owned by SCI Salt, which has an operating arm, the Kissner Group, based in Overland Park, Kansas.

Kissner Group was acquired by Stone Canyon in 2014 and, combined with the more recent K+S purchase, it has become the largest salt company in the world outside China, according to Sheffar.

“There’s language they’re trying to introduce dealing with work hours, and I speak to all the union presidents at the different (Kissner) facilities throughout North America and we know for a fact that they came into most of the facilities and really shaken up their hours and things like that,” he said.

“So, the language they’re trying to introduce (in the contract) is quite detrimental.

“We’re not opposed to change but you know there’s just a whole lot of little issues that have accumulated over the last few years. They just don’t want to deal with any of the issues and we really want to deal with the issues.”

Winter safety

The union has raised the alarm about the possibility of a shortage of road salt this winter if there is a lockout or strike. The union boss said the membership has not yet officially discussed the possibility of a strike to any great extent.

“A month or so ago, (the company) sent a letter saying they were going to enact their contingency plan,” Sheffar said.

“What they did was stockpile 40,000 tonnes of salt to Summerside, P.E.I., and, I don’t know the exact number, but they brought in between 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes to Halifax. It’s sitting under the MacKay Bridge.”

The company stated in its email: “We have well-defined contingency plans in place to ensure the region has the de-icing salt needed to keep the roads in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island safe throughout the winter months. These plans leverage our broader North American production network, giving us the flexibility to adjust our production and distribution processes as appropriate.”

That salt was from another Windsor Salt operation, Mines Seleine, located on Grosse-Ile in the Magdalen Islands, Sheffar said.

“What they’ve done was they’ve put a whole large portion of us out of work because they’re not going to need us to mine that salt now.”

Scheduling

The most recent development, he said, was a phone call on Monday to workers who were set to return to work Sept. 12. The call was to inform them the company wanted them back Aug. 30.

Most of the workforce has been on employment insurance due to the mild winter, and on July 1 there was another round of layoffs during the replacement of the mine’s headframe. The headframe is a large structure that mine elevators ride up and down in.

“That needed to be done, so they laid everybody off with the intention of bringing them back on Sept. 12. We informed them last week that we wouldn’t be having our vote . . . until Aug. 26. We were subsequently given a letter saying, ‘OK, we’ll be ready with the ratification documents.’ With the assumption that the vote is going to be in the affirmative,” said Sheffar.

“I think they’re going to lock us out. Either way, it accomplishes the same thing. We’re not going to be working and by bringing in all that salt, they’ve essentially put a lot of people out of work.”

The union will be contacting the new Nova Scotia government to ask it to not allow salt mined in another province to be used as a bargaining chip to put local miners out of work.

“The salt is usually trucked by local truckers to New Brunswick, to P.E.I., to all the (Transportation Department) sheds all over Nova Scotia,” said Sheffar.

“And so all that trucking, or a significant portion of it, is going to go away.”



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