L-359 signs on for aluminum plant modernization

L-359 BM-ST Phil Halley, left, joins 15 other Canadian labor unions in signing a project labor agreement to modernize the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum plant in Kitimat, British Columbia.

Project labor agreement called “one of a kind”

RIO TINTO ALCAN’S planned modernization of its aluminum smelter operations in Kitimat, British Columbia, reached a milestone Aug. 28 when Local 359 (Vancouver, British Columbia) and 15 other labor unions joined the Kitimat Employer Association in signing a project labor agreement (PLA).

The $2.5-billion project will apply Rio Tinto’s proprietary AP technology to increase aluminum production capacity by more than 40 percent (from 275,000 tons per year to 400,000) while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company.

A Rio Tinto press release described the project labor agreement as “one of a kind.” L-359 BM-ST Phil Halley agrees. “This is an unusual PLA in that each of the 16 unions on the project will essentially keep the existing agreements they have with the various contractors. While the PLA will set some conditions, such as pre-screening for alcohol and drugs and establishing hours of work, the wages, benefits, and other contractual terms that exist between the unions and their employers will remain in effect.”

The PLA also calls for hiring local residents in British Columbia, including from Native American tribes in the area (called First Nations in Canada).

Halley said about 300 Boilermakers will be needed on the job, and work is estimated to last between one-and-a-half to two years. Rio Tinto estimates that the modernization will involve about 2,000 workers, and about 1,000 permanent jobs will be created.

Jean Simon, president of Rio Tinto’s Primary Metal North America, said, “The tight construction market has been a concern for the Kitimat Modernization Project, and this agreement directly addresses that key issue as we go forward for final board approval.”

The Kitimat Employer Association includes project manager Bechtel and contractors and subcontractors participating in the agreement.