Remediation workers in Faro, Yukon join United Steelworkers Union

An aerial view of the Faro Mine in Faro, Yukon. Parsons Inc, is contracted to do remediation work on the former mine.   (Stanley Noel - image credit)
An aerial view of the Faro Mine in Faro, Yukon. Parsons Inc, is contracted to do remediation work on the former mine. (Stanley Noel - image credit)

A group of Parsons Inc employees in Faro, Yukon have joined the United Steelworkers Union (USW.)

Parsons Inc has been contracted to do the remediation work at the Faro Mine site, once the largest open pit lead-zinc mine. The remediation project is slated to span over the next 20 years and exceed $2 billion.

Stan Whittaker is a plant operator for the project.

He said he was the employee representative who raised the idea to join the USW. He said the decision was made to join after employees started to feel like management wasn't invested in the ways they needed.

"The operations at Parsons seemed to be on almost a day-to-day basis depending on mood," he said. "Which makes it pretty hard for the guy on the ground outside of management."

Familiar union

Whittaker didn't go into much detail but said after an issue arose between the company and some employees he felt it was time to look at options.

"I started doing some research," he said. "That's when I found the Yukon Federation of Labour and I reached out. They sent me in the direction of a few different unions and then I messaged Chad from USW."

Whittaker said that USW had been the union previously at the Faro Mine when it was operating as a mine so, he thought it might be best to go with something familiar to some of the workers who are still there.

The process was easier than Whittaker had expected, he said, adding that before he got off the phone with USW he had already signed his union card.

"The union definitely gives us a stronger voice," he said. "It also paints a picture of unity to the company ... You have strength in numbers."

Whittaker said managers showed mixed attitudes about the unionization.

A statement from the company sent to CBC News said the company appreciates its team's hard work.

"We look forward to a constructive dialogue with these employees towards continuing to deliver for our workforce and our customers goals," reads the statement.

67 employees joined

The United Steelworkers union is the largest private-sector union in North America, with more than 225,000 members in Canada, and 850,000 members in North America in nearly every economic sector.

Chad Sedrovic is a casual organizer for the United Steelworkers Union.

He said 67 Parsons Inc employees have joined, with that number expected to increase.

"With our ability to sign online cards now it keeps everybody's identification personal. Nobody's aware of who signs your cards. Your employer doesn't find out," Sedrovic said.

He said joining a union doesn't pit an employee against their employer. The objective of the union is to advocate for equal rights for workers, and to ensure a safe working environment.

"I think it's very important for the people on the ground floor doing the work to have the ability to safely stand up and say 'This is not right,'" Sedrovic said. "Moving forward that is going to be a big thing for the workers."

Sedrovic said in the coming weeks the USW will devise a plan for the workers in Faro to nominate their bargaining committee, and start the bargaining process.

'A collective effort'

Teresa Acheson is president of the Yukon Federation of Labour in Whitehorse.

She said she is very pleased to see an employee come forward wanting better working conditions for themselves and their co-workers.

"I think it was a really great example of a collective effort where we had some great workers on the ground that knew what they wanted," she said. "They knew that they needed to organize to get the help of a union to protect not only their jobs but their community and the work that they do."