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Outraged Kennecott workers condemn Rio Tinto's alleged treachery

Published by MAC on 2003-06-27

Outraged Kennecott workers condemn Rio Tinto's alleged treachery

Friday, June 27, 2003

USWA-Led Unions Blast ‘Targeted Retaliation’ - Vow Assertive, Immediate Responses to Rio Tinto Subsidiary’s Outrageous Layoffs

Salt Lake City­ The leadership of the Kennecott Coordinated Bargaining Committee (KCBC) and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) expressed extreme outrage today after the Utah-based Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP, FTSE:RIO.L, ASX:RIO) subsidiary, Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., announced that it would lay off at least 120 Rio Tinto workers only two days after the company and the KCBC had settled a six-year labor agreement.

The agreement was the result of a bitter labor dispute of more than eight months that did not yield any work stoppages, but was fought acrimoniously.

“Everyone realizes that our labor dispute was bitter and involved much confrontation and animosity,” said (USWA) District 12 Director Terry L. Bonds, who led the bargaining for the KCBC ­ a coalition of five unions that represent 1,300 workers at Rio Tinto’s Magna, Utah ­ based operations. “But we believed that we had established some good faith when we settled out labor agreement earlier this week. Obviously, we were wrong.”

“Judging by the manner and timing of these layoffs, we can only conclude that this company has exercised targeted retaliation against union members and union-represented workers for exercising their legal and constitutional rights: in violation of the two-day old agreement, in apparent violation of labor law, and in violation of the most basic rules of human conduct and decency,” added Leo Gerard, International President of the 600,000 member USWA.

According to members, long-time workers were taken off their jobs and escorted from the facilities by Rio Tinto security guards. Among the laid-off workers are union activists with high seniority. (It is against the law to discipline people for exercising their labor rights). Also, among the dismissed are local union officials, high seniority workers eligible for a voluntary retirement bonus under the new agreement, and injured workers who are receiving workers’ compensation, union officials said.

The layoff, executed without notifying any of the KCBC unions, even targeted at least one worker who is reportedly on active duty with the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq, as well as many military veterans.

“Clearly,” Bonds said, “ The layoff was designed to frighten the Utah Rio Tinto workforce into submission, so that workers and their unions won’t enforce or benefit from the many advantages of the newly-ratified labor agreement. All the while, no contract workers or managers have been touched so far.

“I honestly don’t know what Rio Tinto’s local managers are thinking,” added Bonds. “They are acting like people who have lost their minds. Maybe the fact that a Utah grand jury is investigating Rio Tinto officials in a global fraud and price-fixing scandal has sent them over the edge. Maybe the fact that their multi-million dollar housing project called “Daybreak” sits on a plume of poisoned water -- that will take hundreds of millions of dollars to remediate -- sent them around the bend.

“Maybe the fact that this facility contains not only the largest human-made hole on earth, but is also the largest toxic polluter in the U.S., keeps them up at night. Maybe the fact that they have petitioned Utah courts to seal information surrounding their huge tax breaks is making them nervous. I honestly don’t know. And frankly I don’t care. What they did was wrong ­ and probably illegal.”

“The unions in the KCBC, the Utah AFL-CIO, the national AFL-CIO, our allies in religious communities, in Jobs with Justice, in NGOs, in the Rio Tinto Global Network ­ in the U.S. and around the globe ­ will join together to reverse this low-down, back-stabbing move, as we have joined together to win a fair labor agreement,” concluded Gerard. “And the managers at Rio Tinto’s Utah facilities will not stop feeling our united power until they learn to operate within the agreement, the law and the clear bounds of basic human decency.”

Rio Tinto’s , Magna, Utah (USA) facilities employ about 1,900 mineral mining, processing and support workers in the Salt Lake City area. In 2002, Rio Tinto, which employees about 60,000 people globally, reported US$10.8 billion in gross revenues and US$2.4 billion in gross profits. Rio Tinto’s Utah operations claimed US$755 million in revenues and US$78 million in net profits. The Rio Tinto Global Network is a global coalition of trade unions that represent about 60 percent of Rio Tinto workers.

The Kennecott Coordinated Bargaining Committee (KCBC) represents 1,300 workers at Rio Tinto’s Utah works. It consists of local unions belonging to the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the Office and Professional Employees Association (OPEIU). The labor agreement is a master agreement expires Sept. 30, 2009.


Terry L. Bonds,
USWA District 12 Director at: 505-878-9756, 520-907-0204
Wayne Holland Jr.,
USWA at: 801-972-3433, 801-916-1879
Tom Johnson, USWA at: 773-580-8388,

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