Highland Valley workers approve 'unprecedented' five-year contract

A record number of Highland Valley Copper workers voted to support of a five-year contract entitling them to a $10,000 signing bonus and 21.7 per cent wage increase.

The deal, which United Steelworkers Local 7619 president Richard Boyce calls unprecedented, received 89 per cent approval from the 990 members who voted. There are 1,130 employees among the union's ranks.

He said about 88 percent of workers voted, which makes even the turnout impressive. Past contracts have seen 65 to 75 per cent of members cast a ballot.

"To say that it was overwhelming in regard to the number of people who came out and cast a ballot would be an understatement," he said. "We've never had that many people show up to vote."

He attributes the heightened interest to a number of factors, including an email system that constantly updated the membership on progress made at the bargaining table.

"We've got so many more things at our fingertips in terms of media and getting information out," said Boyce. "Because they were so engaged from the very beginning, I believe they took ownership of this deal."

The deal sees the mine's average hourly wage increase from $31.07 an hour to $37.81 and comes with the signing bonus and the wage hike.

Boyce said the pension arrangement is especially good. With a $25 bridge, employees now receive $109 per month per year of service toward their pension. That means an employee with 10 years of service will get $1,090 a month.

"If they work for 20 years, the amount will double," he said, adding most employees retire with 30 or 40 years' service.

The deal is good for the local economy, as Highland Valley employees are in a comfortable position to spend money in the community.

"There's going to be a lot of gifts under the Christmas tree."

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