Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad  Print this page

NNSL Photo/graphic

Striking Ekati mine workers stand outside the Deton'Cho building in Yellowknife on Tuesday afternoon. They were there in to protest a BHP Billiton contractor, Procon Mining and Tunnelling Ltd. The strikers occupied the building for a short time, before leaving the area peacefully after they received the telephone number to contact Procon offices in Vancouver. - David Ryan/NNSL photo

Union members cross Ekati picket line

David Ryan
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 12/06) - An uncertain number of Ekati union members remain on the job, five days after a strike for a first contract began.

How many continue to work at the diamond mine depends on which side you talk to.

Union members walked off the job at 6 a.m. April 7, the day after mediated talks broke off. The mining firm reports that 137 of the 375 unionized workers are taking part in the strike. The unions say only 17 of their members crossed the picket line.

It's also not clear how much support there is for a petition to decertify the union.

The petition is being circulated to members of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada at the mine will need to carry signatures from a majority of the approximately 750 employees if it is to be considered by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board.

Exactly how much support there is for the push to nix the union depends on who you talk to.

While picketing in wet snow outside the airport office of mine contractor Braden Bury Expediting, striker Lindy Carpenter did not give the application much clout.

"I've seen it happen before - it's just another gimmick," he said.

Fellow employee Wilbert Antoine, however, signed the petition to decertify.

"A lot of people signed it," he said, although he was unable to say exactly how many names were included.

BHP spokesperson Deana Twissell said she's been told that a majority of the workforce has signed the application to decertify.

UNW president Todd Parsons isn't worried his group will get the boot.

"It's coincidental timing that such a decertification application would be made during mediation," said Parsons, inferring that BHP may have orchestrated the push to decertify.

The union isn't the only one throwing accusations around.

Twissell said some workers and their families have been getting a number of unwelcome phone calls in recent days. She said any worker who harasses another would be subject to BHP's harassment policy and could be fired -- strike or no strike.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy on harassment," she said.

The company also said it would pass information on to the RCMP for criminal investigation if it feels such action is warranted.

Parsons said the union has been making calls to members who have crossed the line to encourage them to return to the union.

He denied any threats or intimidation.

"The union in no way endorses an form of violence, harassment, intimidation or violence," said Parsons.

He said he was unaware of any such accusations of harassing phone calls.

The strike was brought up in the House of Commons Tuesday by Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington, who called on the ministers of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Human Resources to "take an active interest" in the labour dispute.

There was no word on plans for new negotiations at press time.