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Wages at issue ahead of ratification vote for Highland Valley Copper workers

Settlement follows mediated talks over the weekend.
Highland Valley Copper
The Highland Valley Copper mine is near Logan Lake, about 50 minutes southwest of Kamloops.

A ratification vote will be held this week for more than 1,000 workers at Highland Valley Copper mine, located southwest of Kamloops, with wages at the centre of the labour dispute. Workers will vote on a settlement agreement, following mediated talks held through the weekend. Employees have been without a new contract since Sept. 30, 2021.

United Steelworkers Local 7619 — the union representing the workers — issued 72-hour strike notice on Jan. 12. It followed 39 days of collective bargaining and mediation began in late November, culminating in talks around the clock with Teck, which owns the mine, and mediators Vince Ready and Corinn Bell late into Sunday night. 

The union was in a legal position to strike as of Sunday afternoon. The union and Teck did not come to an agreement. According to the mediators recommendation report, progress was made to resolve a significant number of issues but a “stalemate remained over the issue of wages.”

The company proposed a wage increase of two per cent over five years plus signing bonuses of $3,000 per year for a five-year agreement. The company argued its wages, benefits and pension are better than other mines within British Columbia and the industry. The union, however, sought a three per cent wage increase per year and pointed to rises in the cost of living and employer profits. 

On Sunday night, the union and employer agreed to have the mediators draft recommendations. Employees went to work on Monday but the recommendations require approval, through a ratification vote, of the membership. 

“Following several days of mediation between Highland Valley Copper and United Steelworkers of America, Local 7619, and in an effort to avert a strike, mediators Vince Ready and Corinn Bell have agreed to provide recommendations for settlement of the collective bargaining dispute,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by the mediators. “The union and employer have agreed to submit the mediators recommendations to a vote of the bargaining unit membership and the executive committee of the company.”

The mediators are recommending a two per cent per year wage increase and $20,000 signing bonus to be payable to all active union members, including employees on leave and those who retired between Oct. 1, 2021 and the date of ratification. The lump sum would come no later than 30 days after the ratification date. 

The ratification vote was set to take place over three days beginning on Tuesday, after KTW’s press deadline. It continues on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Logan Lake Rec Centre, which is located at 21 Chartrand Ave. in Logan Lake.

Workers who are not vaccinated will have to wait outside, but will be able to vote with a mobile device, the union said in a notice to members.

Highland Valley produces copper and molybdenum concentrates. Once processed, the metal concentrates are exported overseas, where the majority is sold under long-term sales contracts to smelters.

Copper production in 2021 was predicted to be between 128,000 and 133,000 tonnes, while annual copper production from 2022 to 2024 is expected to be between 135,000 and 165,000 tonnes per year.

Highland Valley Copper is located near Logan Lake, which is about an hour southwest of Kamloops. Many Kamloops residents work at the mine and commute. 

Kamloops This Week is awaiting return calls from the union and company. 

— by Sean Brady and Jessica Wallace