Rio Tinto, Locked-Out Miners Resume Talks

Talks resumed Wednesday between representatives of Rio Tinto Borax and workers who have been locked out of a California borate mine for over two months.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A federal mediator has brought together the operator of a California borate mine and a union representing hundreds of locked-out miners for new talks.

Negotiations resumed Wednesday between representatives of Rio Tinto Borax and the workers who have been locked out for 2½ months.

About 560 workers at the open-pit mine in the tiny Mojave Desert community of Boron have been locked out since Jan. 31. Part of the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto Group, it is the world's second-largest borate mine.

Dean Gehring, general manager of the mine, said he could not discuss details of the negotiations.

"We are encouraged by the fact that, one, we are back at the table, and it appears that both groups are working together to get an agreement," he said.

The miners are represented by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 30.

"The company needs to end the lockout if they're serious about negotiations," said Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the miners' families.

The company locked out the workers on Jan. 31 when there was no agreement on a contract to replace one that expired in November.

At the time, the company was offering a 2 percent raise and seeking changes in sick leave and seniority practices. Employees currently earn $18 to $29.30 an hour.

The company contends it needs changes to compete after losing 25 percent of its global market share in the past decade. It says its main competitor is a mine in Turkey where workers' average pay is about $9.70 an hour.

Gehring said the seniority issue appeared to be the major sticking point in the previous negotiations.

Under the company's January proposal, seniority would count in terms of job security during layoffs and recalls but would not have a part in promotions or transfers, he said.

"Promotions and transfers would be based on skills and abilities and qualifications," he said.

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