A Kennecott union whose members helped mine the metals that went into medals for the upcoming London Olympics wants mine owner Rio Tinto "off the podium" for alleged labor-rights violations.
The company responded that it has a good relationship with its workforce at Kennecott's Bingham Canyon mine and believes its "ethical track record" is consistent with Olympic ideals.
But members of United Steelworkers Local 392 argue Rio Tinto violated Olympic principles by locking about 800 union workers out of a smelter in Alma, Quebec, when their union contract expired Dec. 31, 2011.
The union contends Rio Tinto wants to replace retiring unionized workers with subcontractors who earn less money and do not get pensions or benefits.
"We completely reject the way that Rio Tinto is treating workers in Alma, Quebec," said United Steelworkers 392 staffer Wayne Holland Jr. in a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"It is wrong that Rio Tinto be allowed to associate itself with the Olympic principle of fair play and with the London Games' commitment to sustainability while treating workers in Alma as it has."
Rio Tinto is the official supplier of metals in the 4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals for London's Olympics, which run July 27 to Aug. 12.
"Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper and our employees are excited to continue the legacy of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City by providing the metal for the 2012 London Games," said Kennecott spokesman Justin Jones.
He forwarded a statement from Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese, who said "being ethically responsible is a thread that runs through everything we do. We aim to bring long-lasting positive change to the communities where we work, respecting human rights, bringing economic benefits and looking after the environment."
A contingent of Utah Moms for Clean Air will fly to London next week to challenge the London Olympic organizing committee's use of Rio Tinto metals in the 2012 Summer Games.