Windsor Salt to Invest $300 Million

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Windsor Star/Dave Hall

The owners of Windsor Salt have committed up to $300 million in new investment which will extend the life of the west-side mine for at least another 45 years, according to sources.

The investment was contingent on three union locals ratifying a new three-year collective agreement that calls for modest wage increases, benefit improvements and changes to the employee pension plan from defined benefit to defined contribution, effective Dec. 31, 2015.

Bill Wark, president of Unifor Local 1959 which represents about 230 workers in the fine salt and mine divisions, declined to disclose the amount of the investment for competitive reasons but sources told The Star it could reach $300 million.

“Let’s call it a multimillion-dollar expansion which will keep good-paying jobs in this community for more than 50 years and allow us to retire a couple of generations of workers from the mine,” said Wark. “It will extend the mine’s life for 45 years beyond the current 10 and that’s remarkably good news for everyone.”

A company spokesperson would only say that “it would be premature to discuss the level of investment at this time given that we are in the early stages of developing a long-term plan.”

The majority of long-service employees will be grandfathered and their pension switch won’t occur until Dec. 31, 2015. Others will have their defined benefits plan switched to defined contributions and new hires will be enrolled in the defined contribution plan.

“It’s awesome the way it turned out,” said Tom Dupuis, a laboratory technician with 35 years seniority. “This protects jobs for our children and their children and provides security for the entire workforce.

“This will likely be my last contract and I don’t see a downside,” said Dupuis. “I know it won’t satisfy everyone, and the pension issue is certainly a major part of that, but it protects jobs and these days I think that’s very important.”

Members of Unifor Local 240, which represents office workers, voted 92 per cent in favour of the new agreement, fine salt and evaporation plant employees voted 77 per cent in favour and mine workers voted 86 per cent in favour.

Mary Beth Nantais, Local 240 unit chairperson, said the agreement addresses inequalities in the workplace and also preserves jobs “far into the future.

“I think our members understood the issues and how important they were to the future of this mine and they voted accordingly,” said Nantais.

Clovis Cote, unit chairperson for the mine’s fine salt division, said the agreement recognizes that “there are no guarantees in any community these days.

“Nothing is forever, but this agreement positions us for fresh investment,” said Cote. “We’re among the highest-paid with the best time off and the best benefits package and we haven’t given any of that up.

“We’re just taking a look at some key issues from a different perspective,” said Cote.

The agreement also includes improvements to language, vision care, life insurance, dental plan, shift premiums, long-term disability, boot allowance and retiree benefits.

It also include wage gains ranging from 30 cents an hour to 45 cents an hour in each year of the agreements as well as special wage increases  for selected job classifications ranging from five cents to 25 cents an hour.

Windsor Salt is owned by Morton Salt, a subsidiary of K+S Aktiengesellschaft, the world’s leading producer of salt.