72-hour strike notice issued by union representing Rio Tinto workers in Kitimat, Kemano

rio tinto

With files from The Canadian Press

The union representing Rio Tinto employees in Kitimat and Kemano has issued a 72-hour strike notice after nearly seven weeks of negotiations.  

Unifor Local 2301, which represents about 900 workers at Rio Tinto’s Kitimat smelter and Kemano power generating facility, announced earlier this week that their members had unanimously voted in support of a potential strike.

“Unifor members’ historic, unanimous, strike vote speaks volumes to the culture of disrespect and unfair treatment Rio Tinto has created over many years,” said Unifor national president Jerry Dias in a press release.

“What is surprising is how, despite record-setting profits, Rio Tinto appears so unwilling to work with us and treat our members fairly.”   

The union says it has proposed the first changes to workers' retirement income and benefit levels in more than a decade. These changes include moving younger workers from the company’s Defined Contribution plan to a Defined Benefit plan, which the union says will create better retirement security.

It also says negotiations have focused on a backlog of more than 300 grievances resulting from the company's use of contractors and refusal to hire full-time workers. The union says Rio Tinto has been “unwilling to address their aggressive, expanding use of contractors,” which it claims has resulted in an overreliance on temporary employees.

“Senior management says they want a mutually beneficial deal that avoids a dispute, but their actions at the bargaining table tell a completely different story,” said Unifor Local 2301 President Martin McIlwrath in a press release.

“Members have already indicated their unity and their commitment with the strongest possible strike mandate, now it’s time for the employer to negotiate a deal that respects us.”

In an e-mailed statement to CFTK-TV, a spokesperson from Rio Tinto said the company is committed to working with the union to reach a mutually beneficial outcome to the ongoing bargaining process.

The strike notice was issued on Wednesday morning and the union's current collective agreement expires at the end of Friday, meaning strike action could begin this Saturday if an agreement is not reached before then.