New Brunswick

Belledune smelter upgrade cancelled amid company's dispute with workforce

A multi-million dollar upgrade at a Belledune smelter has been halted by Glencore Canada amid an ongoing contract dispute at the facility.

Glencore Canada says it has halted $64M project at northern New Brunswick plant

Glencore Canada says it has cancelled a $64-million upgrade at its Brunswick Smelter in Belledune amid an ongoing contract dispute with about 280 unionized workers. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

A multi-million dollar upgrade at a Belledune smelter has been halted by Glencore Canada amid the company's contract dispute with workers.

Glencore planned to spend up to $64 million on an acid plant at the decades-old smelter in northern New Brunswick. The first phase, worth about $20 million, is already done. A second phase was set to start in July.

Alexis Segal, head of communications at Glencore, said the second and third phases, valued at about $40 million, have  been "cancelled."

"When you have a site under a strike like this, you don't have management ability to manage an important project like this on a site, so it doesn't make sense to do the project even with a strike ongoing," Segal said in an interview Wednesday. 

Union not convinced 

Bart Dempsey, president of United Steelworkers local 7085, was skeptical of the company's plan to stop the acid plant. 

"I think it's just another tactic by this manager," he said. "He's pretty much telling you 'take what I'm offering or we're going to cancel the project' and he's going to blame it all on the union."

More than 280 unionized workers have been off the job since April 24. The last contract expired in February 2019.

The upgrade at the Brunswick Smelter in Belledune was expected to start last month. (CBC)

The company hasn't ruled out resuming the work once the dispute ends.

"We will have to go back to the investors and ask once again if they're willing to invest $40 million in a smelter that has been on strike for months," Segal said. "Nothing is certain in this world."

In June, Glencore warned the project could be in jeopardy. 

The Brunswick Smelter employs about 450 people and primarily processes lead and silver concentrate, according to the company's website. 

The union and company don't agree on what to call their dispute. The union gave a 72-hour strike notice, but 14 hours before the deadline on April 24, employees were sent home with pay. 

The union calls the dispute a lockout, while the company says it's a strike because the employees were paid until the deadline.

Dempsey has said the contract dispute revolves around company proposals to reduce union and safety representation and for removal of early retirement plans.

Segal told CBC in May that safety comes first, but the company needs to make changes as a downturn in the lead industry has made the plant unprofitable.

The smelter has been operating at a reduced capacity during the work disruption.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.