Borax miners, Rio Tinto reach tentative agreement

Early-morning negotiations Friday may have ended a months-long dispute between 570 borax miners and a multinational company that owns the strip mine on which the Kern County town of Boron depends.

The two sides tentatively agreed around 1 a.m. Friday to a 2.5% wage increase in each year of the proposed six-year pact, said representatives of Rio Tinto Minerals and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the workers.

The two sides also agreed to new rules regarding promotions, overtime and contracting work to nonunion companies.


“We’re very encouraged,” said Susan Keefe, a spokeswoman for Rio Tinto Minerals. “We’re looking forward to getting our workforce back to the operation.”

The dispute fractured the town of 2,000 on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, where borax, a mineral used in detergents, cosmetics and fiberglass, was discovered in 1925.

The miners’ contract expired in November. On Jan. 31, after more than four months of negotiations, Rio Tinto brought in replacement workers.

Since then, miners have congregated outside the mine gates, heckling those who crossed their picket line. At times, they have argued in restaurants with mine officials.

The lockout hammered Boron, whose economy and population are linked to the mine. Doctors and nurses offered free medical screenings for uninsured workers. Donated food was handed out at the union hall. As the lockout continued, many businesses reported struggling to stay afloat, and residents were asking creditors to defer car and mortgage payments.

Before the tentative agreement can take effect, union members must discuss and vote on it at a meeting Saturday.