Nova Scotia

Miners union will try to organize workers at Donkin

The United Mine Workers of America has served notice that it intends to organize a union drive at the recently opened coal mine operated by Kameron Collieries in Donkin, N.S.

Cape Breton coal mines can be dangerous; workers need union protection, says Bob Burchell

A truck carrying coal from Donkin to Sydney leaves the Donkin Mine on Long Beach Road. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

The United Mine Workers of America has served notice that it intends to organize a union drive at the recently opened coal mine operated by Kameron Collieries in Donkin, N.S.

The announcement came in a speech this week by Bob Burchell, who retired earlier this year as international representative for the UMWA. He spoke during ceremonies marking the annual Miners' Memorial Day in Glace Bay on Sunday.

Though retired, Burchell is staying on as an advisor to the union until his successor takes over.

If the drive proves successful, it will be the first unionized mine among the many owned by Kameron's Illinois-based parent company, The Cline Group.

"The Cape Breton coal mines are dangerous and they're gassy," said Burchell. "The guys there will probably want to make sure they have a union to protect them and look after their health and safety."

Methane gas is often found among coal deposits. If not ventilated properly, the gas can ignite and explode, as it did in 1992 at the Westray Mine in Plymouth, N.S.

Bob Burchell, the recently retired international representative for the United Mine Workers of America, addresses a gathering at this year's William Davis Miners' Memorial Day in Glace Bay. (Submitted by Neeta Kumar-Britten)

Steps to form a union

Burchell wouldn't say when the organizing drive will begin but he did explain the sequence of events that must be followed to establish a union.

"We have to file with the Trade Union Act and you have to get a certain amount of the employees to sign membership cards to belong to the union, and once that's achieved we submit it to the Labour Board, and they conduct a vote at the mine site," he said.

Asked whether he expected resistance from the mining company, Burchell said he's optimistic that a union could work with the company to negotiate a collective agreement and set up safety committees.

"I think once their employees make the determination that that's what they want, I would hope they would respect the wishes of their employees," he said.

A spokesperson for Kameron Collieries, Stephanie MacDougall, said the company has no comment to make on union organization, especially since forming a union is "entirely up to the workers."

Sixty-four people work at the Donkin mine. The workforce is expected to grow to 130 over the next couple of years.

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