Agrium workers negotiating for new contracts

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

Workers at the Alaska Nitrogen Products fertilizer plant in Nikiski can hope to have new contracts by April 1.

Calgary, Canada-based Agrium Inc. is in negotiations with the Paper Allied-Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE) Local 8-0369 for a new full contract to replace the collective bargaining agreement Agrium picked up when it purchased the plant from Unocal in October 2000, said PACE president Randy Knowles.

Agrium and PACE have met to discuss the particulars of the contract and have a tentative agreement to meet again Feb. 26-28.

"We're negotiating a full contract opener, which means local language and economics," Knowles said. "As for the particulars, we don't like to get the negotiations into the press.

"We just hate to create any more problems by running stuff out in the press that wouldn't serve us well at the table."

Mike Nugent, Agrium plant manager in Nikiski, also declined to comment on the particulars of the negotiations, explaining that the company and the union agreed not to negotiate through the press.

Both Nugent and Knowles said, however, that they hope to have a new contract completed before the current one expires April 1.

"That's not a joke," Knowles said, referring to April Fool's Day. "It just adds a little levity to a serious procedure."

Agrium bought the ANP plant from Unocal when Unocal was selling off all its agricultural products businesses throughout the country. Knowles said that PACE negotiated with the company to pick up the bargaining unit of employees and the existing contract.

Some problems did arise concerning retirement benefits. Agrium only provided benefits for workers over the age of 50 who had been with the company 20 years or more, leaving some longtime workers in their 40s without retirement plans. However, Knowles said, that was not an issue the union could resolve.

"We couldn't do anything except be dissatisfied with a group of people," he said. "We expressed our displeasure, but it was something that had to be worked out between the two companies."

Agrium employs about 300 full-time and 30 contract workers. The negotiations will impact 150 people, about half the work force.

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