Economy

Ekati chaos is ‘monopoly with people’s lives,’ says union


The Union of Northern Workers hit out at the corporations involved in the disintegration of a plan to sell the NWT’s Ekati mine, saying the collapsed process had taken “a financial and emotional toll” on staff.

Owner Dominion’s planned $166-million sale of the mine to another subsidiary of its parent, the Washington group, fell through last week after three insurance companies with veto power over the deal rejected it.

The union that represents Ekati’s workers said many were only informed of the deal’s abrupt demise after a press release had been issued by Dominion last Friday.

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“For our members to receive such news – on the eve of a holiday weekend – via the media before hearing from the employer directly is unacceptable,” said the union, known as the UNW, in a news release of its own on Tuesday. (Dominion does not send its news releases to Cabin Radio.)

“The uncertainty and lack of transparency throughout this process has taken a financial and emotional toll on UNW members, who depend on the continued operation of the mine to support their families and communities,” the union continued.

The UNW said it hopes to be told more about how the abandonment of the sale will affect the mine’s chances of reopening.

Senior mine executives, in court depositions, have suggested near-immediate action is required to prepare for the 2021 ice road season and have any hope of restarting meaningful work at Ekati in the next year.

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The mine has been in care-and-maintenance mode, with hundreds of workers furloughed, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was alone among three active NWT diamond mines in deciding to close.

Dominion has spent the past half a year in creditor protection, allowing the company to avoid paying many debts while it tried to find a buyer.

The Washington subsidiary was the only bid received, though a group of Dominion’s creditors had been trying to prepare a rival bid and could still make an offer.

“There doesn’t seem to be any accountability on the part of these corporations to act in the best interests of northerners,” said union leader Todd Parsons.

“What are our leaders putting in place to protect our workers and our economy from corporate entities with no personal stake in our future and who answer to no-one but their shareholders? Where is the due diligence to ensure that hardworking northerners and their families aren’t left out in the cold?

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on many sectors and it’s very frustrating, as a union, to have to sit on the sidelines and watch billion-dollar corporations play monopoly with people’s lives.”

Mine will ‘conserve cash’

Kurt Bergstrom, the UNW regional vice-president responsible for the local representing Ekati workers, described the sale’s collapse as a “major setback.”

Bergstrom, an Ekati worker who has been furloughed since May, said: “I want to assure our members that the union will continue to reach out to the employer and put workers’ best interests at the forefront.”

Dominion’s interim boss, Pat Merrin, left his role as soon as the deal died on Friday. Merrin, unusually, was also the chief operating officer of Washington, the parent of the subsidiary bidding for Dominion, throughout the sale process. He retains that role.

Merrin has not been replaced at Dominion.

The mine told workers by email last week: “Unfortunately, the uncertainty caused by [the sale’s demise] will force us to conserve cash as much as possible in the near term.

“This could mean extending furloughs or making permanent layoffs. As decisions are made, we will be direct and transparent with employees and the union.”

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