By Tuesday, the miners from the small town of Boron, dressed in T-shirts and ball caps, were buzzing around the lobby of the Embassy Suites hotel in Palmdale.
Groups of them came and went throughout the day for reorientation meetings with Rio Tinto management to begin the process of returning to work after the extended lockout. Rio Tinto adviser Tod Diebold said the week-long orientation is necessary before the miners can return to the mine on Monday.
In a meeting yesterday with Rio Tinto Borax General Manager Dean Gehring, small groups of miners were asked how they felt about returning to work after months of being locked out.
"This was a very difficult process for a lot of people," said Gehring. "We recognize that and we're happy to have that behind us so we can start working toward our future."
Although miners said they appreciated the company's efforts to clear the air between management and union workers, most were not completely honest about their concerns, said one salaried employee who had continued working at the mine even while his co-workers were locked out.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union that represents the Borax miners had been in contract negotiations with Rio Tinto for months before the company locked out the workers on Jan. 31--a move Rio Tinto spokesperson Susan Keefe said protected the company.
After weeks of discussions at the insistence of a federal mediator, both sides finally reached a tentative agreement on Friday, May 14, at 1 a.m.
The new contract was approved by 75 percent of the union miners in a vote that took place on Saturday, May 15.
The six-year deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Rio Tinto Borax includes a yearly 2.5 percent pay increase and protections against discrimination and favoritism for the 570 workers, according to a union press release.
The company won the right to promote workers based on skills and performance as opposed to seniority-based promotions, which was the previous long-standing practice at the mine. The company will also give new hires 401(k) retirement plans instead of the retirement pension plan that current employees receive.
Union miners said the new contract is a victory.
"It was a long hard fight... a lot of suffering... but we got a fair contract above all the odds," said Chuck Kennedy, a union miner.
The lockout hit the small town of Boron hard. The tight-knit community of 2,000 people joined together, donating food, supplies and financial assistance to help the families of the mineworkers.
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