Agrium, union closer to job terms

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2000

Workers at the fertilizer plant in Nikiski can keep their jobs even under new ownership, although it still is undetermined whether they will be able to keep all of their accrued benefits, too.

Agrium U.S. Inc. is negotiating to buy the facility, formerly known as the Unocal plant, from Alaska Nitrogen Products LLC.

Representatives from Agrium have been meeting with labor union negotiators to iron out the details of how the transfer would affect workers.

The Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) Local 8-0369, Kenai branch, announced Saturday that members approved an agreement with Agrium that includes a continuation of current contracts and retains all the workers in the bargaining unit.

About 170 people are affected.

The union members met in two shifts Friday for the ratification vote.

Randy Knowles, president of the local, said several issues remain on the table, but job security is a major point. The agreement allayed fears of potential layoffs after Agrium finalizes its takeover.

"For the most part, everyone was pretty happy they had a job," he said.

Knowles said he does not anticipate major changes under Agrium ownership.

The workers at the plant have done a good job, and the new company needs them to continue the successful venture, he said.

Workers still have concerns about unresolved retirement and health benefit details.

"There is still an issue out there on that," he confirmed.

Neither Knowles nor Alaska Nitrogen Products spokesperson Roxanne Sinz would discuss specifics, citing confidentiality while negotiations are still pending.

Sinz was upbeat about the outlook for the labor negotiations and the plant sale.

"All of us want to see the process proceed," she said. "I believe, for the most part, the benefits are comparable."

Both stressed that all the arrangements are tentative until the ownership transfer is complete. Alaska Nitrogen Products and Agrium are waiting for the Federal Trade Commission to OK their deal.

The company may get the official word in June, they said.

During the interim, the union is dealing with both companies. On April 26 and 27, PACE will meet with Alaska Nitrogen Products to discuss other items related to the effects of the sale.

The plant, combined with the affiliated Unocal oil and gas exploration projects, is the largest private employer in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"The community has a large stake in this process, too," Knowles said.

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