31 March 2023
Nearly three years after the National Labor Relations Board sued Nevada’s largest gold mining business for not recognizing a union that had been in place for decades, a collective bargaining committee reached an agreement with the company this week for a new three-year contract.
The contract provides more than a thousand workers at Nevada Gold Mines with an 8.5 percent increase in wages over the contract’s term, along with other protections, as the mega-company continues to hold a large amount of influence over a local economy dominated by its operations.
“The greatest highlight to note is that in December of 2019, we could not receive recognition… and our members faced a large amount of uncertainty and insecurity,” Scott Fullerton, a district representative for Operating Engineers Local 3, said in a press release Tuesday. Negotiating a new three-year contract, Fullerton said, “says a lot about the dedication of the membership, the determination of Local 3 and the importance of both parties communicating effectively.”
The new collective bargaining agreement covers Nevada Gold Mines’ operations that used to be managed by Newmont, including Gold Quarry, Leeville, Pete Bajo, Emigrant, Chukar, Deep Post, Deep Star, Exodus, Mill 5, Mill 6, South Area Leach, Genesis/TriStar, Rita K and parts of North Area Leach. The agreement does not cover areas previously operated by Barrick.
In an email, Fullerton said any employee covered by the agreement could join the union. As of Jan. 30, the bargaining unit consisted of 1,394 employees with 542 union members.
Nevada Gold Mines did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2019, Nevada Gold Mines was formed as a joint venture between multinational mining giants Barrick and Newmont, companies with deep histories operating massive gold mines across the Interstate 80 corridor in northeastern Nevada, from Winnemucca to West Wendover. Merging the two operations into one company led by Barrick — Nevada Gold Mines — had an immediate impact on workers. Where there were two major competing employers in the area, now there is one.
In the months following the merger, Nevada Gold Mines management stopped recognizing the union, which had represented Newmont employees since 1965, taking actions that the nation’s top labor regulator told a federal court “left many employees feeling terrified and betrayed.”
In June 2020, the National Labor Relations Board asked a U.S. District Court judge to grant an injunction reinstating the union, alleging that the company had engaged in “unlawful conduct.”
Nevada Gold Mines had initially responded by calling the federal agency’s request “an extreme and draconian injunction” to force it into a labor agreement that had preceded the new company. But the case did not proceed as the company entered into settlement talks that culminated in a win for the union: Nevada Gold Mines agreed to recognize the union and restore benefits.
The bargaining committee for Operating Engineers Local 3, representing workers at Nevada Gold Mines. (Courtesy Operating Engineers Local 3)
During the past two years, The Nevada Independent and High Country News have investigated workplace changes at Nevada Gold Mines. Through a tip form, dozens of former and current workers have shared information about policy changes at the mines, discrimination complaints and the company’s outsized influence over the labor pool. In addition, workers have reported concerns that the company placed an emphasis on productivity at the expense of safety.
After the settlement agreement, Operating Engineers continued to file additional complaints with federal regulators, alleging unfair labor practices concerning pay and worker classifications. But union officials said communication with the company improved. By March 2022, the company had agreed to issue $1.1 million in back pay and damages and a one-year contract extension with a 2.5 percent pay increase. The negotiations over the new contract began in February.
After the contract was negotiated Tuesday, Fullerton said that the agreement marked “positive progress” in a relationship with Nevada Gold Mines that had started on adversarial footing.
The contract, Fullerton said, also includes pension increases and addresses “safety aspects,” though he noted that the safety record of union areas is better than the record in other areas.
Although there are several small mines in the region — and a few more are expected to come online — Nevada Gold Mines remains a regional giant, employing roughly 7,000 workers and thousands of contractors. The company’s size, workers said, gives it significant control over the local labor pool, supplies and contractors. Carl Peters, an underground miner with Nevada Gold Mines, said in a press release that he participated in the union’s volunteer negotiating committee because he felt that the union “is the only thing that holds this company in check.”
“There’s no competition for labor anymore,” he added.
Jackulyn Kinkead, an underground truck operator and a member of the negotiating committee, said in a statement that the union “came out ahead on everything.” Kinkead said that she valued having the union protection: “If something happens, I am able to make a phone call.”
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