Union representing Atlantic Gold employees aims to start negotiations in June
Health and safety, wages among issues to be tackled in first collective agreement
Employees at Atlantic Gold's Touquoy mine in Moose River, N.S., are hoping to begin bargaining for their first collective agreement next month.
Workers at the gold mine voted last month to join the United Steelworkers Union. Almost all of the eligible employees voted, and 97 of the 149 people who cast a ballot voted in favour of unionization.
Mario Fortunato, an organizer with the union, helped run the unionizing drive, and said he was happy with the results of the vote.
"The support is always more than what you see in a vote because people are tentative, they're worried, they don't know everything about the union, and, you know, people fear change. So to get two-thirds in a vote in these times, I was amazed and pleased."
The newly unionized workers at the mine include mine and mill operators, electricians, custodians and others. Workers who do blasting and drilling are employed by contractors and are not included.
The union, which is currently getting shop stewards and executives trained, sent the company a notice to bargain last week. That sets off a 20-day window for the company to respond, and negotiations could begin soon after that.
Health and safety, wages among priorities
Fortunato said one of the key concerns was that employees wanted more say in health and safety issues.
"Mining's dangerous," he said. "There are always health and safety concerns at mines and if the workers can be heard … tragedy can be avoided."
Wages are another area that has "room for improvement," Fortunato said, though he declined to say how much the union would like to see rates increased by.
He said while some employees are paid close to the industry standard, others are being paid well below conventional rates.
"Employers across this country … have this idea that there's an eastern differential, that they can pay less on the East Coast," he said.
"And my career has been devoted to debunking that because gold extracted here is worth the same as gold extracted anywhere. It's an open-pit mine. The mine's very, very profitable. They should be leading the industry, pay-wise and benefit-wise."
The union's Atlantic director, Lawrence McKay, said employees doing the same job at the site are being paid at different rates, similar to many non-unionized workplaces. He said pensions and benefits will also likely be up for discussion.
"Instead of having a job, they want to have a career. They want to have some place that they can, you know, look into the future and see that they've got some security."
Atlantic Gold told CBC News in an email that it respects the rights of its employees to unionize and was pleased to see the level of participation in the vote.
"Atlantic Gold has a stellar safety record in Nova Scotia and our wages are competitive within the province and the industry. However, we always look to foster an environment of continuous improvement. We look forward to discussing any input the United Steelworkers have as discussions progress," said company spokesperson Dustin O'Leary.
He added there is no anticipated deadline for the signing of a first contract and declined to discuss any issues the company might want addressed, citing the confidential nature of negotiations.
The company, which is owned by Australian company St Barbara, hopes to expand its operations in the province. It has three other proposed gold mines in the works, at the Cochrane Hill, Fifteen Mile Stream and Beaver Dam sites.
Fortunato said he expects if those mines go ahead, workers at each site would need to vote on whether or not they wanted to join the union.