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A truck loads rock into a hauler at a Northern Nevada mine in April 2017. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

After declining to recognize a union that represented a portion of its employees for more than 50 years, Nevada Gold Mines is reversing course as part of an agreement to settle a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, representatives for the union announced on Monday. 

In June, the federal agency alleged in court documents that Nevada Gold Mines had engaged in “unlawful conduct” by not recognizing the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3. Lawyers for the board, which asked a federal judge to force Nevada Gold Mines to recognize the union, said that the company's actions “left many employees feeling terrified and betrayed.”

The federal labor agency said Nevada Gold Mines’ “illegal conduct threatens irreparable harm to national labor policy encouraging good-faith collective bargaining, the unit employees’ right to free choice, employee support for the union” and its process for dealing with complaints.

Days before oral arguments were scheduled to start, the board disclosed that settlement talks were underway. 

On Monday, the union said Nevada Gold Mines agreed to a settlement in which the company said it would recognize the union for the portion of employees that had been previously represented. The union said Nevada Gold Mines agreed to “restore working conditions and benefits,” reimburse union employees for lost wages and not interfere with the ability of its workers to join a union.

“This settlement is a major victory for our members and the employees we represent,” Scott Fullerton, the Nevada district representative for Local 3, said in a statement on Monday. “These workers were living in fear of unjustly losing their jobs without the protections of the collective bargaining agreement. They were threatened with retaliation for supporting the union.”

A spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board confirmed the settlement agreement. 

“The press release is consistent with the settlement terms,” said spokesman Ed Egee.

In a statement, Nevada Gold Mines said "our employees are the company’s most important resource and we are proud of what we have collectively delivered in our first year."

"After much consideration, [Nevada Gold Mines] recently made the decision to enter into an agreement with National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 3 (IUOE3) to end our litigation and settle our disagreements," the company said. "We look forward to working collaboratively with IUOE3, together with the non-union members our workforce, going forward to continue to capture the potential of the combined [Nevada Gold Mines] assets that are so important to our community and to Nevada’s economy.”

As of Monday afternoon, the settlement agreement had not been filed in the court docket.

Local 3 formerly represented employees for Newmont Mining under a collective bargaining agreement that was set to last through March 2022. In a management transition that started in the middle of last year, those employees were consolidated under the auspices of Nevada Gold Mines, a joint venture between Newmont and its international mining competitor Barrick Gold. 

The board alleged that management at Nevada Gold Mines declined to recognize the union for former Newmont employees, despite several representations that the union would remain intact. 

In response, Nevada Gold Mines disputed the agency’s claims, offering the court a different fact-pattern. Lawyers argued that the “board’s legal theories are factually and legally deficient.” The company also argued that the union was no longer valid, arguing in part that the union no longer represented a majority of similarly situated workers in the newly created joint venture.

The board’s complaint also included several allegations that Nevada Gold Mines interfered with union involvement on work premises, asking employees not to display union materials.

In one case, the complaint said Nevada Gold Mines ordered a union worker “with unspecified reprisals in retaliation” to report safety issues to company management rather than federal regulators. The company denied this allegation, along with most of the allegations in the complaint. 

Nevada Gold Mines, in court documents, said it would be “exceedingly difficult and expensive” to return to a status quo in which it recognized Local 3. The company noted that it had paid out time-off wages to the former Newmont employees. Lawyers for the company told the court that returning to the status quo could cost the company and employees as much as $11.8 million. 

The board disputed that analysis, saying the only identifiable cost was about $2.5 million for a pension fix and noting that the companies were saving about $470 million with the joint venture.

“Even if [Nevada Gold Mines’] $2.5 million estimate of the costs of restoring the status quo is accurate, this sum hardly seems like a hardship given the scale of savings,” the board said.

Update: This story was updated at 8:41 p.m. at Aug. 10, 2020 to include a statement from Nevada Gold Mines.

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