600 Miners Locked Out at Rio Tinto Mine Near Boron

Some 540 workers were locked out of the giant Rio Tinto Borax mine in Boron, Calif., Jan. 31 after the workers, members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 30, unanimously rejected the company’s latest contract offer. The company shut off further contract talks and brought in replacement workers.

The mine is the largest open-pit mine in the Golden State and the second largest borax mine in the world. Many of the town’s 2,000 residents work at the mine, which has been a key contributor to the town’s economy.

“I think it will be pretty traumatic,” Jim Freeman, a 31-year veteran at the mine, told the Los Angeles Times.

I think the company had the impression we were going to roll over and let them feed us the poison.

London-based Rio Tinto employs some 720 people in Boron, paying between $12 and $35 an hour, according to the union. The mining giant operates on five continents and reported $2.5 billion in net earnings for the first half of 2009.

Yet Rio Tinto, which says it lost 25 percent of its share of the global borax market, is demanding the right to hire more nonunion workers and to change the seniority system.

On the local’s website, workers say they are determined to fight for their rights and the rights of working people.

While Rio Tinto has shown that they don’t care for us and our communities, we’re more determined than ever to stand up and see this thing through. Too many people in America are losing good jobs and working harder, while big companies make billions and don’t play by the rules. That’s why we’re taking a stand in Boron, not just for ourselves and our communities, but for everyone in America who’s fed up with corporate greed and a system that doesn’t protect hard-working families.

Union spokesman Craig Merrilees says:

The contract would allow [management] the right to discriminate and practice cronyism when it comes to deciding who gets a raise, who gets overtime and who gets training opportunities.

People here are tough and willing to see this through to the end. It’s not just about Rio Tinto but all the companies doing this to people across the country. In this little town people are drawing the line.

The locked-out Borax workers need your support. Send contributions to “Local 30 Lockout” c/o ILWU, 1188 Franklin St, San Francisco, CA 94109.