130 Utah mine workers take early retirement

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News,Business

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nearly half of the 270 mine workers offered early retirement packages from Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. have accepted the deal.

The company is looking to slash its ranks following a landslide that damaged an ore pit west of Salt Lake City. Kennecott officials hope to salvage half the copper production planned for the year.

The company announced Tuesday that 130 workers in their 50s or older accepted the one-time payment of $20,000 to retire early. They will also get their pension and health care benefits.

The deadline to accept the offer was Saturday, and 270 workers were eligible to take the deal.

The company laid off 100 salaried workers last month. More layoffs are possible as Kennecott looks to reduce the workforce to match lower ore production.

Also Tuesday, Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said 34 workers had accepted reassignments within the company, some to fill critical jobs left by early retirees.

The 34 worked at a copper concentrator and a smelter, and they will take jobs at comparable pay at the tailings pond or the mine, said Wayne Holland of the United Steelworkers, who represents more than 1,000 Kennecott workers.

"The news was much better than we thought it would be two months ago," Holland told the Deseret News. "Nobody actually lost their jobs — for now."

Kennecott didn't rule out future layoffs.

"The early retirements have created some flexibility to reduce impacts on people, but long-term, we have cost-restraint challenges," Bennett said. "We will look at every option to remain financially stable."

It's expected to take months, if not years, for the major U.S. copper mine to recover from a slide that loosened enough material to nearly fill the Panama Canal — rock and dirt without ore value.

Union officials say the upper end of the landslide exposed some possible new ore deposits that could be hard to reach.

The slide tore loose April 10, nearly filling the bottom of the pit. Kennecott was able to resume limited production only because it had staged some haul trucks inside the pit beforehand. The trucks are working around landslide debris to feed an underground conveyer belt with ore.

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