UMWA Members and residents of Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada are starting to see a light at the end of a long three-year tunnel. The Grande Cache Mine closed its doors two days before Christmas in 2015, throwing hundreds of miners out of work and devastating the community. The mine was recently sold to CTS Global, a subsidiary of the Chinese based company, Sonic Global. Multiple news sources have reported the sale of the mine for $1 billion.
The re-opening of the mine, one of the major employers for the Grand Cache residents, has raised hopes in the small town in Alberta that was hit hard after more than 500 miners were laid off. “Not only did people lose their homes, but shops, stores and even doctors’ offices had to close down as well,” Region IV Director Bob Butero said. “There was just not enough money coming into the community to support the businesses that depended on the wages UMWA Members made at the mine.”
The economic hardship caused by the job losses forced the town, that had approximately 5,000 residents prior to the mine closing, watch its population drop to about 3,500. “When the mine shut down, it hit the town of Grande Cache really hard and forced many miners to move away in search of work,” said International Auditor/Teller Jody Dukart. “That is why we worked so hard to make sure that if the mine reopened, it would be UMWA Members who previously worked there who would get their jobs back. We are encouraged by what we have seen from the company so far and are hopeful for the future of Grande Cache. The reopening of the mine means jobs for the people of this town. Hopefully it will allow the other businesses in town to recover as well.”
The UMWA stayed on top of the Issues
“The UMWA has represented the miners at Grande Cache since August 31, 2009 and fought to make sure every member got the best representation possible. The Union successfully negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the company without any major incidents, but when met coal prices collapsed in 2015, the mine operator could not pay off the debt it acquired when it bought the company, so the mine was eventually forced to shut down,” Secretary-Treasurer Allen said.
“When it became apparent that the mine would close, the Union successfully negotiated a rollover agreement with the operator prior to the mine’s closure. The agreement ensured that if and when Grande Cache Coal restarted the operation, UMWA members would be recalled to work under a contract that the Membership agreed upon.”
UMWA Members Faced Bankruptcy Again
Unfortunately, Grande Cache was forced into bankruptcy last year when its Chinese financial backer defaulted on debts of approximately $500 million. During the bankruptcy hearings, the Judge placed all of the assets of Grande Cache Coal up for sale to the highest bidder. The court’s decision meant the assets could be sold off as a single entity or piece-by-piece.
“Just like every other bankruptcy the Union has been involved with, when Grande Cache Coal filed for bankruptcy the courts terminated the UMWA contract. It was the hard work and dedication of the Union that convinced the new company, CTS Global, to agree to honor the rollover agreement that was in effect before Grande Cache Coal filed bankruptcy,” said President Roberts. “UMWA International Representative Gary Taje and International Auditor/Teller Jody Dukart worked tirelessly to maintain a good relationship with everyone involved in the sale of the mine, and it was because of their commitment that the Members will continue to be represented by the UMWA.”
UMWA Members began to Return to Work in June
With the agreement between the Union and CTS Global in place and the final sale of the mine approved by the Calgary Court, plans to restart operation of the mine were set in motion. Mining operations were set to begin in June with approximately 15 UMWA Members performing maintenance and prep work. By the end of the month, plans are to employ two production shifts at the surface mine. Starting in 2019, the mine operator plans to ramp-up operations at the surface facility to four production shifts. Should the market remain stable, there is hope of opening the underground mine in the next few years.
The mine produces high quality metallurgical coal, which is high in carbon and low in Sulphur and a major component in steel production. The mine will initially sell their coal through a trading company that will supply Chinese, Korean and Japanese customers. “The UMWA stayed engaged in the process from the time the mine shut down. It successfully negotiated an agreement with CTS Global even before the sale was approved by the Calgary Court,” President Roberts said. “We have an amazing staff in Canada. They are so dedicated and hard working. They are key to the UMWA’s success and deserve all the credit for making sure the jobs at the mine remained Union jobs.