Baffinland production workers unionize, sign collective agreement
More than 800 skilled workers at Mary River get wage-benefit deal
(Updated at 10:15 a.m., April 24)
More than 800 heavy equipment operators, haul truck drivers, skilled tradespeople and other workers at Nunavut’s Mary River iron mine are now represented by a union—and they’ve just ratified their first collective agreement with Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.
After an organizing drive that Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers started in May 2017, the union was certified by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board in 2018.
And following talks that started in November 2018, IUOE Local 793 members have just said yes to their first wage-benefit deal, which takes effect this May 1.
“Seventy-nine-point-three per cent voted in favour, which is overwhelming,” Kathryn Peet, the communications representative for IUOE Local 793, told Nunatsiaq News.
Peet also said the negotiations were essentially non-adversarial and led to a type of deal that they describe as a “mutual gains partnership agreement.”
“Basically what it means, to have a mutual gains partnership agreement, is when you have two sides that want to negotiate. Baffinland agreed to negotiate with us. We were working with them to come to this agreement. We’re trying to figure out ways for both sides to win,” Peet said.
“It’s so that the employees are represented in the way that they need to be, but so that the needs of the mine are respected as well,” she said.
And the agreement contains provisions that set wage rates, including wage increases that will kick in on May 1, Peet said.
Ten per cent wage cut left employees behind
As for the temporary 10 per cent wage cut that Baffinland imposed on all Mary River employees in September 2015, the new collective agreement would prevent that from happening again, Peet suggested.
“All the wage rates and wage increases in the collective agreement are contractually guaranteed over the life of this agreement,” Peet said in an email.
Baffinland imposed that 2015 wage cut to help them get through a rough patch. At the time, rock-bottom iron ore prices and missed production targets had hit them hard.
In 2017, the company restored that cut by granting a 10 per cent wage increase to its Mary River workers.
But those employees were still financially less well-off than they were in 2015.
“This, however, was two years after the cut, and in the intervening years they received no wage increase at all. Ultimately, even with the 10 per cent increase, they were behind where they were in 2015,” Peet said.
So this situation became an issue in the recent negotiations.
“The collective agreement was negotiated with this potential volatility front of mind,” Peet said.
A “safety first” culture
The new collective agreement also strengthens workplace safety, Peet said.
This comes after the death of Tony Anker, 63, a haul truck driver who died on Dec. 16, 2018, in what the company says was a single-vehicle accident.
Another worker, Michael Levi, 51, of Arctic Bay, died in an accident that occurred in September 2015.
“In the collective agreement both parties confirm their commitment to a genuine ‘safety first’ culture and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. confirms its responsibility to provide appropriate tools, training, inspections and safety procedures,” Peet said.
Now, employees have more of a say in workplace safety issues, Peet said.
It does this through “additional avenues” for raising safety issues and concerns, she said.
Also, IUOE Local 793 will sit on a joint health and safety committee alongside Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. representatives and Baffinland employees, she said.
“We will all work to ensure that safety remains front of mind for everyone,” Peet said.
Union runs Morrisburg training centre
IUOE Local 793’s sister organization, the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario, is well-known to many Nunavut residents.
That’s because of its private technical school for training heavy equipment operators near the village of Morrisburg, Ont., which has been offering training to people from Nunavut since January 2005.
“The Operating Engineers Training Institute is the best trainer to be able to train people on how to use the equipment, safety, and respect for their fellow employees,” Peet said.
The OETI also runs a program in Oakville, Ont. that trains crane operators.
The IUOE Local 793 union represents about 15,000 crane and heavy equipment operators in Ontario and Nunavut. Through other locals, the union represents about 400,000 workers across Canada and the United States.
“We thank the employees of Baffinland for putting their trust in IUOE local 793 and having the confidence to vote in favour of the tentative agreement,” said Mike Gallagher, the IUOE Local 793 business manager, in a news release.
Brian Penney, the president and CEO of Baffinland, said he likes the agreement because it “emphasizes collaboration, fully respects our IIBA [Inuit impact and benefits agreement], and reflects Baffinland’s core value to engage and develop our employees.”
And he described the deal as “a unique partnership, based on shared values, which puts employees first.”