Replacement workers allowed to exit Goderich salt mine

Striking workers at the Goderich salt mine say replacement workers inside the mine have been allowed passage past the picket line and were able to leave safely last night.

Union calls Compass Minerals to return to bargaining table to end strike that started April 27

Workers at the Goderich salt mine have been on strike since April 27, but the mine has continued to operate using replacement workers. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Striking workers at the Goderich salt mine say replacement workers inside the mine were able to leave the mine safely last night.

"They're human beings, we understand that," Gary Lynch, president of Unifor Local 16-0, told CBC News this morning.  "We had a deal the night before and they declined to get on a bus and go home. So they came to their senses yesterday and agreed, and we walked them out with security." 

On Wednesday striking workers at the mine erected barricades of wooden pallets in front of the mine entrance, a move they said was aimed at stopping replacement workers from getting to work. 

Lynch said replacement workers already inside before the barricade was set up were always free to leave. He said some had expressed safety concerns and so opted to stay inside before leaving last night after 6 p.m.

About 350 mine workers represented by Unifor Local 16-0 have been on strike since April 27. 

Picket lines have been up since the strike began but the mine has continued to operate through the use of replacement workers. 

The mine is the largest employer in Goderich which has a population of 8,000. It's the world's largest underground salt mine and supplies de-icing salt to customers across central North America. 

The mine is owned by U.S.-based Compass Minerals. In a statement, the company has said that blocking the entrance violates a court order.

The company added that it "is in the process of undertaking enforcement measures to aid in the continued operation of the mine and servicing of our valued customers."

The workers, including miners and electricians, have been trying to negotiate a new contract. The union said the top issues are job security and benefits and that money isn't the central issue. Instead, their concerns stem from a push from management to get workers to try 12-hour shifts. The company has outlined a framework for a settlement on its website.

The company insists the union abruptly left negotiations; the union says the company has refused to return to talks. 

Lynch said the union is trying to force Compass back to talks. 

"We're hoping to get back to the table, get some solid dates," he said. "It's time, we can't just sit here for 10 weeks with nothing, not even a phone call from Compass Minerals."