WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia — Some 210 hard rock miners are on strike in this province’s Cariboo region in a fight to strengthen and unify their union. The strike began May 23, three hours after Imperial Metals Corporation, the mine’s owner, locked out members of United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 at the Mount Polley Mine. The miners mine copper and gold.
Under British Columbia law, after locking workers out the bosses can invite them to return to their jobs if they accept the company’s last contract offer.
The bosses insist on hiring groups of temporary workers who don’t get union protection or benefits. The union is demanding that any workers the company hires should automatically become full-time employees and union members after three months.
“We are fighting for the temporary workers who have no rights,” Tom Silvey, who has worked 40 years as a miner and drives a truck, told the Militant July 6 on the picket line. “Our fathers and our grandfathers fought for safety and wages for everybody. To give in to the company would be a slap in the face to them.”
Tim Guterson, the plant chair for the union at the mine and a mill operator, said the hiring of temporary workers expanded after the dam holding in the tailings pond at the mine gave way in 2014, sending millions of tons of toxic sludge and debris pouring down into the water system and two adjacent lakes.
The company-caused disaster led to a total water ban for residents in the area. The government demanded the mine owners repair the damage. Some temps have worked over two years. Imperial Metals has never been charged or fined for the disaster.
Mine bosses are also trying to undermine seniority provisions in choice of shifts. The miners work 12-hour shifts, seven days on, seven days off. About 30 are women.
And because of the cost of the ongoing tailings cleanup, mine bosses have threatened to lay off miners. Picket lines are staffed 24/7 at the two mine entrances. The union has produced a leaflet for distribution in town that says, “These 200 plus workers and their families are now into their 7th week on the picket lines and we ask that the public, local suppliers and contractors respect their picket lines.”
This correspondent gave the strikers a solidarity card signed by some 30 workers in the Vancouver area, including some on strike against the Hard Rock Casino, Walmart workers from two stores and some hospital workers. Solidarity messages can be sent to email@example.com.