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Looming Kennecott layoffs leave townsfolk uneasy

Published May 3, 2013 9:32 pm

Mining • Magna, Copperton residents fear looming impacts, hope for the best.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kennecott's unions floated an early retirement proposal to the company on Friday, hoping the departures of perhaps 200 older workers might lessen the number of layoffs Kennecott makes later this month.

As those negotiations took place, people in Magna and Copperton said they fear that the massive landslide in the Bingham Canyon Mine will cause economic hardship for many Utahns, but are reasonably confident Kennecott is doing all it can to restore full production and make the impending layoff a short one.

"Obviously this will take money out of the economy," said Danny Colosimo, proprietor of Colosimo's Standard Market on Magna's Main Street. "The economy was just getting back to the point where there was some stability, and to take a hit like this is really hard on the workers.

"I'm just hoping the good relations they have between the union and management are at a point where they can work it out peacefully and expediently so the guys can get back to work," he added.

On Thursday, the company informed Kennecott's unions, who represent 90 percent of the Utah operation's 2,100 employees, that an unspecified number of layoffs will occur sometime this month. The labor reduction will cut costs as the mining company repairs the massive mess caused by an April 10 landslide that filled the mine's pit with waste rock 300 feet deep. The slide is projected to cut mine production in half this year.

Wayne Holland of the United Steelworkers of America and a member of the unions' bargaining team said the union suggested Friday that one way to minimize layoffs would be for the company to enhance an early-retirement package to get 200 or so employees to depart voluntarily.

The proposed package includes supplemental monthly funds and health care coverage until the early retirees qualify for Medicare, he said.

"They will be examining our proposals over the weekend and we'll resume discussions Monday," Holland said.

Company spokesman Kyle Bennett said there were "productive discussions" Friday with the union and that "those will continue." But he had no new information about the size or timing of the layoff.

As he smoked a cigarette outside the Copper King bar, miner Jed Matthews, 55, said he hopes to get an early-retirement offer. While he doesn't think this layoff will be as bad as two he went through before, he knows Kennecott's woes will ripple through the valley.

When Alicia Caldwell Kesler first heard about the slide, she knew immediately it could have consequences for her small Magna business, Main Street Hair & Nail Design.

"I'm definitely concerned about the economic pull on Magna's Main Street," she said, noting that many of her customers' husbands work for Kennecott. "Magna can't afford any more hits."

Over in Copperton, retired postmaster and current town Councilman Russell Ray said Kennecott's cuts won't hurt the town as much as in bygone days. Only 20 percent of the town's 1,000 residents work for the company — as opposed to 90 percent at one time.

Still, "every time they do something at this mine, it affects this town," he added, impressed that "you can see [Kennecott's] intent to keep going. They're not talking about shutting down. They're saying 'We'll stay connected to the community.' That's good to hear."

But there's little doubt layoffs will hurt some people.

"This doesn't come at an opportune time," said Copperton resident Harvey Seal, 64, a Kennecott retiree, referring to the tepid economic recovery from the recession that began in 2007. "People are just bouncing back from that."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg