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Union boss wants respect

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 24/06) - The president of the union representing striking Ekati workers asked for respect from the mine owners, and support from MLAs last week.

Public Service Alliance of Canada president John Gordon was in Yellowknife for a rally.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Union of Norther Workers local 3050 members Paul Betsina (left) and Steve Gallagher picket outside the Legislative Assembly Friday. - Jason Unrau/NNSL photo

"If BHP Billiton wants to stay in Canada and continue to do business in Canada it has to respect Canadian workers," Gordon said at a press conference Friday, then later to strikers picketing the legislative assembly. "BHP loves to promote the fact that their diamonds are not tainted by blood... right now, BHP production from the Ekati mine is tainted by corporate greed."

At the local 3050 rally in front of the Legislative Assembly, Gordon chastised territorial politicians.

"The MLAs should be denounced for not supporting you," he said. "It was the workers who voted them in."

Despite Ekati's claims that more than 30 per cent of the 375 union members employed at the mine have returned to work, resolve on the picket line remained strong.

Striking boiler operator Gerry Balmer has worked at the Ekati mine for eight years and believes the company does not treat all of its employees fairly, alleging that, "Seniority doesn't matter to (Ekati), there's people there doing the same job and one is getting paid $18,000 more than the other."

When Gordon was pressed for the union's count of how many members have crossed the picket line he was unable to provide figures.

"We're focused on getting a collective agreement," Gordon said. "Right now we don't know the extent, but there are a few and we're trying to gather stronger evidence of workers going into the mine and doing our work."

Fines for members who return to work would be at the discretion of the local, he said.

"Our constitution says that members will not cross picket lines," he said.

As the strike moves into its eighth week, BHP Billiton continues to refute union claims that the mine is using replacement workers.

"We are not using replacement workers at Ekati, nor do we intend to, we need to make that crystal clear," said BHP spokesperson Deanna Twissell.

"Also we will continue to respect our employees whether they chose to strike or not and we're committed to keeping our employees safe in the workplace, their communities and on the picket lines."