BY KEITH LACEY
Without a miracle in the next 24 hours, it appears 1,100 unionized workers at Falconbridge will walk off the job for the second time in three years.
As of 1 pm Thursday, the bargaining committee for Mine/Mill Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 598 and the Falconbridge Ltd. negotiating team had met for only 17 minutes in the last two days.
The two sides were scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon, but Local 598 president Rick Grylls was not optimistic with the strike deadline of midnight
Saturday rapidly approaching.
?It doesn?t look good, but if we have to go around the clock to get a deal done, we?re prepared to do that.?
After nine weeks of intermittent talks, the company hasn?t made a single proposal about wages, pensions or benefits, said Grylls.
He said the crucial issue of contracting out remains the key stumbling block to reaching a deal.
?We?ve told the company point blank to take contracting out and any concessions off the table,? said Grylls. ?That?s the bottom line.?
Any new hires should be hourly-rated, full-time, unionized employees, he said.
?Contracting out is the core issue and until we jump this major hurdle, we won?t even worry about wages, pensions or benefits,? said Grylls.
The company is not required to pay benefits or provide pension funds to contract workers.
Grylls said the union simply won?t listen to any proposal or contract language that will allow the company to hire contractors to do work union
members are qualified to perform. Large trailers, complete with heat and hydro, have been placed outside all area mines, plants and the smelter.
Grylls said the membership is ready and willing to hit the picket line at 12:01 am Sunday morning if a new deal isn?t reached.
Before the current three-year deal was signed in early 2001, more than 1,300 members of Local 598 walked the picket line for almost seven months.
The union?s strike committee had three separate meetings set for the membership today at the Navy League Hall (formerly Mine Mill Hall) on Regent Street.
At the meetings, the membership was updated on the state of negotiations and strike plans and protocol were hammered out in case a deal isn?t reached. Falconbridge officials could not be reached for comment before deadline.