The Telegram (St. John's)

Come By Chance workers vote to accept contract

- BARB DEAN-SIMMONS SALTWIRE NETWORK barb.dean-simmons @Barbdeansi­mmons

Employees of North Atlantic Refining Ltd. (NARL) have accepted a new contract with the company.

Ron Thomas, Newfoundla­nd and Labrador representa­tive of the Steelworke­rs Union, told Saltwire the new deal includes a wage increase of 5.5 per cent for the life of the contract, which ends in 2024. The wage increases are retroactiv­e for 2020. He added 95 per cent of the members voted in favour of the new contract.

The members of United

Steelworke­rs Local 9316, employees at the refinery in Come by Chance, have been without a contract since last year when the COVID-19 pandemic created turmoil on the world economy and a crash in oil prices that led to the closure of many refineries, including the one at Come By Chance.

Most of the approximat­ely nearly 500 workers at the refinery were laid off last March. About 200 of them were re-called when the provincial government provided $16.6 million in funding to enable the refinery to remain in warm idle mode. The deal — which is slated to end on June 30 — covered 75 per cent of the labour costs and 50 per cent of other costs associated with the warm idle, allowing the refinery to keep 200 people on the payroll.

Prior to the shutdown, about 500 people worked at the facility.

Others have since found work at other job sites, said Thomas, while they waited to see whether or not the refinery would restart.

That’s why the union asked for recall language in the new contract to protect members who are working outside of the refinery, Thomas said.

“The contract also provides for laid off members to work at other jobs, if qualified, for changing the layout of the refinery,” he added.

While the Steelworke­rs Union members have a formal contract, the bigger question is whether the refinery will resume operations after June 30.

Prior to the pandemic, the future of the refinery was looking bright.

In 2019 Silverpeak spent about $400 million to increase the refinery’s capacity from 90,000 to 135,000 barrels a day.

The New York-based firm announced last year it would sell the facility.

Currently it is in talks with Texas-based Cresta Fund Management.

Representa­tives from Cresta were in Come By Chance a couple of weeks ago to tour the facility and meet with union officials.

Thomas said a new contract with the union was one of the steps that needed to be accomplish­ed before any sale agreement could be finalized.

To date, both NARL’S owner Silverpeak and Cresta have been playing their cards close to the vest, offering no comment on the progress of negotiatio­ns. However, news agency Reuters reported in January that Cresta had indicated it would look to convert the refinery to renewable fuels production.

All NARL would say this week, through their communicat­ions agency, is they continue to engage with investors and partners to potentiall­y restart the refinery.

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