Support Striking Salt Miners in Windsor!

Support Striking Salt Miners in Windsor!

On February 17, 250 Windsor Salt miners represented by Unifor Local 1959 and clerical staff represented by Unifor Local 240 went on strike in Windsor, Ontario. The striking workers include miners from the Windsor Salt Ojibway Mine, which makes road salt, and workers at the evaporation processing plant, which makes food grade table salt by evaporation of brine extracted from wells.

These are the first negotiations with the company’s new owners, the Los Angeles, California-based Stone Canyon Industries Holding Ltd., Mark Demetree and Affiliates which purchased all Windsor Salt operations in 2021 from K+S Aktiengesellschaft. The new owners started these negotiations with demands for contracting out of unionized jobs and then refused to negotiate, resulting in the workers going out on strike. The workers are in no mood to accept dictated concessions given concessions they have already made with the previous owners in 2014. At that time they agreed to give up their defined-benefit pension plan in return for a $300-million investment in the operation which was meant to expand production and jobs for future generations with an expansion of both the rock salt and table salt operations.

In 2016, the Ojibway Mine was expanded to extend production by an estimated 50 years and in April 2022 the City of Windsor gave the new owners approval to dig new brine wells for salt extraction under Malden Park in the city’s west end, extending production at those operations for at least 30 years. When the workers agreed to change their pension plans to a defined-contribution plan, it was on the basis that future generations of workers would be able to sustain the pensions from continued and expanded production. The workers inform that they are ready and willing to negotiate, but are not prepared to accept the loss of workers to contracting out which will only mean a weakening of their union and harming of the community through the loss of union jobs.

When Stone Canyon purchased German-owned K+S Group Americas operations in 2021 they took control of K+S Chile that operated the open-pit Salar Grande de Tarapaca Mine in Chile’s Iquique province and Morton Salt that has operations all over the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Morton Salt was the parent company of Windsor Salt Ltd. which besides the operations in Windsor, Ontario has operations in other parts of Canada and Quebec. Stone Canyon’s purchase of K+S Group Americas came one year after it purchased Kissner Group Holdings LP — the owner of another group of major salt operations in North America — in its bid to establish a larger conglomerate in the salt industry.

The new owners have set out to try and use their power over critical salt supplies to demand concessions. Miners who worked at Windsor Salt’s mine in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, represented by Unifor Local 823, were in negotiations when Stone Canyon bought Windsor Salt. They reported at that time that the company began demanding concessions to work hours, new layoff language and changes to the pension plan. As a result of the company’s refusal to negotiate, the workers went out on strike in November 2021. Instead of negotiating, the company began stockpiling salt in Halifax and Prince Edward Island from its other operations to try to use their control over the salt industry in North America to break the strike. At that time, the company claimed that it now had “an annual production capacity of over 29 million tons in 24 salt production facilities, 15 processing plants and 130 storage locations across North America, South America and the Caribbean.”

After two weeks on strike the Pugwash workers accepted a tentative agreement, the terms of which were not made public. Reports indicate that the new contract was similar to the offer the workers initially rejected. “We had no choice. The company kept bringing in salt the whole time we were negotiating,” one worker was quoted as saying about the new contract. Nova Scotia MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin raised concerns at the time saying “The salt mine in Pugwash supplies road salt for the entire province […] I want the government to ensure in future contracts that the salt that is used on Nova Scotia roads is salt that is mined here in Nova Scotia. That’s important because some of the salt right now was brought in from Quebec in anticipation [that] the strike had gone on too long.”

Clearly the striking workers in Windsor, Ontario are facing an emboldened employer which thinks it can do as it pleases in Canada. What is most important however is that the workers are clear that they are defending not just themselves, but future generations and the community itself by refusing to accept the company’s dictate. They deserve everyone’s support, including local elected officials who approved the Ojibway Mine’s expansion, to make it clear that dictate will not be accepted and that the workers and their communities must be respected. Their claims are just and must be met!

Check out EYN’s interview with a representative of the striking workers: