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Bingham mine slide could bury hopes of Kennecott employees

Published April 25, 2013 8:41 am

Amid uncertainty, few accept the offer to take unpaid time off.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Jeremy York was just days away from beginning his training to become an ore truck driver for Kennecott Utah Copper when the massive landslide struck the Bingham Canyon Mine.

Instead of getting eight weeks of training to learn how to drive the massive machines, York got a call from the company the day after the northeast wall of the mine collapsed, telling him that he didn't need to report for training.

He's not the only one whose livelihood has been impacted by the slide, which has claimed at least 50 other jobs and created anxiety about the mine's near future.

"When I first heard of the landslide, I was thinking that my job maybe was a little more secure — that they would need the help hauling out the fallen rock," York said. "It was disappointing to hear that I didn't have a job. I'd been trying for a long time to get on there, and it would have been a big step up for me."

The 34-year-old York, who said he was one of 12 potential hires scheduled to begin training on April 15, said it is understandable Kennecott decided it didn't need to bring on any more drivers. Still, he had given his former employer, FedEx, three weeks notice that he was leaving and as a result found himself without a job.

"I've since found a part-time position as a warehouse worker, and I'm hoping if I work hard, that it will turn into a full-time job," he said.

The landslide on April 10 sent 165 million tons of rock crashing down into the mine, filling most of the bottom of the pit.

It brought ore recovery operations to a halt, left in doubt whether refining operations will continue beyond May and generated a growing sense of anxiety among 2,100 Kennecott workers and hundreds of outside contractors that their job security may have been buried under the fallen rock.

Already one outside contractor, Sandy-based Cementation USA Inc., has laid off 45 of its employees as a result of the landslide.

Cementation, a mine contracting and engineering company, was hired to construct two large tunnels into the mountainside as part of Kennecott's long-term plan to extend the life of the Bingham Canyon Mine. The landslide buried the company's work sites, along with millions of dollars in machinery, said Willie Finch, Cementation's director of human resources.

"Fortunately, all of our employees were out of harm's way when the landslide occurred, and we're grateful for that," Finch said. "And I won't say that we lost equipment because we know right where it is. We just don't known whether it is operational anymore or not. It's doubtful."

Finch said Cementation had approximately 70 employees working at the Bingham Canyon Mine just before the northeast wall came sliding down into the pit. He said a skeleton crew of about 20 Cementation employees is being kept on hand in Sandy at the request of Kennecott "in case we have to move to ramp up our operations again."

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said Wednesday that contractors such as Cementation often are brought in by the company because they have needed expertise to complete special projects. "We have contractors working throughout our operations. Other than at the mine, we have contractors continuing to work at our other plants, and so far the impact [of the slide on them] has been limited."

He said he didn't have an exact number of contractors that Kennecott employs. But estimates by unions representing mine employees put the number of contracted workers in the hundreds, which varies widely depending on the work that is available.

Bennett noted that all of the company's 2,100 employees who report to work are being given jobs and paid their normal wages. And although the company has asked all its workers to consider taking vacation or unpaid time off to help it better manage its workload, so far few have taken Kennecott up on that request.

Brandon Dew, business agent for Operating Engineers Local 3 that represents about 200 shovel operators and dozer drivers working at the mine, said he believes the uncertainty surrounding the near-term operations of the mine has kept most workers from volunteering.

"Everyone is concerned about what the future might bring, and they just want to wait and see what happens," he said. —

Kennecott CEO, Mayor McAdams set press conference

Kennecott Utah Copper President and CEO Kelly Sanders and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams will address the community in a press conference beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday concerning the economic and operational impact of the massive landslide that has brought ore recovery at the Bingham Canyon Mine to a halt.