WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Unionized workers seeking a richer contract from Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO) picketed outside the fertilizer giant’s Cory mine on Monday as part of a rotating strike, slowing operations there, company and union officials said.
The company had begun work to restart production at the mine on Sunday after an annual, scheduled two-week maintenance break, but the picket line slowed that down on Monday, said company spokesman Bill Johnson.
“It’s my understanding that the mine is not operating today,” Johnson said.
Later, Johnson clarified that the picketing had not completely halted work at the mine. “It certainly hasn’t stopped operations altogether, but it’s significantly slowed them down today,” Johnson said.
The picket line will remain for 24 hours as the union works to pressure the company, which has said it has made its final offer, to resume talks, union negotiator Lee Edwards said.
“It will be business as usual tomorrow” (Tuesday) at the mine, which is just southwest of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Edwards said.
“Our issue is not to stop production at this point. Our goal is to negotiate a fair and reasonable collective agreement,” she said.
Managers and some contract workers were on the job on Monday, Edwards said, but Steelworkers and some contractors from other unions were staying out.
“People thus far, for the most part, have honored the picket line,” she said.
Both sides have suggested possible mediators to help restart talks but said they were not able to agree on a mediator.
Potash fertilizer prices have tripled over the past year and miners’ stock prices have soared as a world shortage of grain prompts cash-rich farmers to boost yields.
Potash Corp, the world’s largest fertilizer company, last week increased its 2008 profit forecast after reporting second-quarter earnings that more than tripled.
The robust earnings report helped bolster the union’s stance, the Steelworkers’ Edwards said.
“Really, it’s a matter of our members taking a position to share the wealth on the pink gold,” she said.
The company’s stock was down 99 Canadian cents at C$204.90 at the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday morning.
Underground and mill workers at the company’s Cory, Allan and Patience Lake mines have been without a labor contract since the end of April. The three mines accounted for about 2.8 million metric tons, or 30 percent, of the company’s production last year.
Potash Corp has said that it has presented its best deal and that the offer would make the miners the best paid in the potash mining industry.
The union said the offer would still leave its workers with less pay than that of most workers in the mining industry as a whole. It said the offer didn’t adequately address key issues such as contracting out, pensions, vacations and bonuses.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jennifer Kwan; Editing by Frank McGurty