Unifor Local 2301 members picketing outside of the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat BC on July 26. (Black Press Media file photo)

Unifor Local 2301 members picketing outside of the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat BC on July 26. (Black Press Media file photo)

Kitimat council urges Rio Tinto and union to return to bargaining

City of Terrace, MP Taylor Bachrach have also signed letter

The District of Kitimat council has joined a growing number of voices urging Rio Tinto and its unionized Kitimat aluminum smelter workforce to return to the bargaining table in hopes of ending a strike now in its second week.

Mayor Phil Germuth, speaking to a motion passed unanimously by council Aug. 3, said council is not taking a side but does want a resolution between the company and Unifor Local 2301 which represents 900 smelter workers.

“As a council we are neutral. We are not involved and won’t be involved in any bargaining,” he said.

Germuth added that there might also be a role for a mediator in the dispute.

“If that’s what it takes for the two sides to come together to talk, I can’t see why we would not be in favour [of a mediator],” he said.

The council’s motion has been drafted into a letter being sent to the company and union.

“The District of Kitimat urges the two parties, Unifor 2301 and Rio Tinto B.C. Works, to meet and work together to come to an amicable agreement that benefits all parties and the larger community,” reads the motion.

A number of other local governments have also been asked to be signatories.

“We were asked and will be signing the joint statement,” said City of Terrace communications advisor Kate Lautens.

The Haisla First Nation has signed through president Crystal Smith. Also signing is Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP Member of Parliament Taylor Bachrach who visited the picket lines last week announcing his support of Unifor.

A non-governmental organization, the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce, has also signed.

The Kitimat council initiative comes as Skeena Liberal MLA Ellis Ross has written his own letter, this one to the provincial government asking it to intervene in the strike.

Ross said the economic impact of a smelter work stoppage is significant for not only Kitimat but for the region.

The provincial labour ministry, however, has rebuffed the prospect of intervention for now.

“We are aware of the dispute and are monitoring its progress. We are hopeful the parties can resolve their collective bargaining dispute by getting back to the bargaining table as soon as possible,” indicated a statement from the provincial labour ministry.

“The parties can ask for mediation from the Labour Relations Board if they need any assistance to resolve the dispute,” it continued.

Unifor was in a legal strike situation in late July after it and Rio Tinto spent several unsuccessful months in bargaining. The union issued a 72-hour strike notice and when it and the company failed to make progress during that period, its members set up picket lines just after midnight July 25.

To date, the union has said Rio Tinto wants to cut benefits for current and retired workers, details of which Unifor has published in a strike bulletin.

Rio Tinto has countered Unifor’s claim but has not offered up any information of its own.