Rio Tinto refreshes deal with borates workers union

By IM Staff
Published: Monday, 25 January 2016

Deal struck with Mojave Desert staff which Rio says will protect business’ future.

Rio Tinto Minerals, the non-metallic arm of Rio Tinto Plc, signed an agreement in December with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) concerning workers at its borates mine in the Mojave Desert, in southwestern US.

The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) invokes a five-year extension on the current CBA, which was set to expire in May 2016, in addition to a 2.5% annual wage increase for hourly employees, starting in May 2016.

"This agreement reached five months prior to CBA expiration date of May 2016 enables us to further strengthen our business and continue investing in our Kern County-based mining operations in Boron," said Isabelle Brassard, general manager for California operations.

Running until May 2021, the CBA will also include medical benefits "aligned with industry and national trends for American workers" that take effect in January 2017. More than 500 ILWU-represented staff work at the Boron, California facility.

"At the same time, the agreement provides a solid foundation to be more globally competitive and maintain our position as the world’s leader in borate minerals and refined products," Brassard added.

Rio Tinto’s mine is one of only two major operating borate projects in the world, although other significant challengers are on the rise. Producing nearly half of the world’s supply of refined borate products, the mine has an extraction rate of around 3m tpa and has been in production since 1872. It was converted to an open pit operation in 1957.

The local president of the ILWU, Dave Liebengood, said that the continuation of all language from the previous 2010 contract was important. Around 65% of union members voted for the contract in a recent meeting. "Our goal at the union is to make sure our company remains a world-class competitor in selling borates," he added.

"Our employees are our most important asset to delivering quality product to our customers. I am pleased we found common ground with ILWU to add value to our business, employees, customers and stakeholders," Brassard said.