Negotiations between Brunswick Smelter in Belledune and its unionized workforce of 300 are to resume Monday with the help of a provincially appointed mediator.
The workers have been without a contract since February and are resisting management's efforts to find $3.5 million in savings by cutting employee pension and benefits.
The closure of Brunswick Mines last year left the smelter looking for another source of ore.
The company is now paying to ship in ore from Europe and South America and Gary White, of United Steelworkers District 6, says the company is looking to make up that expense on the backs of workers.
"They're taking money out of benefits, money out of the pension, and we don't agree with all of that," said White. "There's got to be a better way of sharing that cost."
The union hopes to find that balance through the contract negotiations. But the most recent offer was voted down by 95 per cent of union members.
White says the sides have remained far apart for the past six months, with labour-management relations at an all-time low.
Even if a deal is reached, the smelter's future is uncertain, he said.
"They've told us, 'You get a contract, or you don't get one, there's no guarantees it's going to say open,'" said White.
"So it's kind of hard bargaining concessions, and not even a guarantee you're going to have a job."
Smelter general manager Marc Duchesne provided a written statement to CBC News describing how management is trying to "contain costs" by demanding employee flexibility.
"Examples of this include the contracting out of some work through attrition, switching drug plans from covering higher cost branded drugs to lower cost generic medicine, and, asking some of our employees with fewer years of service to transition to the same defined contribution pension plan as our management," stated Duchesne. "The company's proposal maintains wages and benefits at levels significantly above the regional average"
Duchesne's statement expresses hope a work stoppage can be avoided so the smelter can continue to operate.