- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The nation’s only platinum and palladium mine announced Monday it will lay off 119 employees and put into effect a contract that union workers have twice rejected.

Stillwater Mining Co. is seeking to cut costs as platinum and palladium prices have dropped by about a third over the past year and the company’s stock value has been cut in half.

The new contract for workers at the Stillwater mine at Nye takes effect on Sept. 1 and replaces one that expired on June 12. It leaves base wages the same for the first two years and makes changes to the incentive program that miners have said could lead to a cut in pay depending on metals prices.

The mine at Nye employs 864 miners. Another 400 miners at Stillwater’s East Boulder mine near Big Timber are not affected by the layoffs, said Stillwater spokeswoman Jennifer Lawson. Some workers at the metallurgical complex in Columbus will be affected, she said.

No one answered the phone Monday afternoon at the United Steelworkers Local 11-0001 in Columbus. Union officials had recommended workers ratify the contract. It failed the last time on July 27.

On July 30, Stillwater notified the union that it would be implementing its last, best and final offer, which was the one rejected three days earlier.

On July 31, Stillwater announced a $27.5 million second-quarter loss and said it would reduce its salaried and hourly workforce in order to save between $10 million and $15 million.

The company has modified its mine plan to focus on the most profitable mining areas within the Stillwater Mine and will seek to maximize production from the East Boulder Mine, company officials said. Other adjustments may be made based on market conditions.

Spokesman John Beaudry said he did not know how much money the layoffs would save the company.

Mine employees were upset that CEO Michael “Mick” McMullan received an 8 percent raise that increased his base salary to $712,000, but Lawson noted that was still 31 percent less than previous CEO Francis McAllister.

Over the past year, Stillwater’s stock price has fallen from a high of $19.10 a share to as low as $8.37 earlier this month. It closed at $9.34 on Monday.

Montana’s largest mining company, Stillwater recently moved its headquarters to Littleton, Colorado. It employs about 1,600 people. Platinum and palladium are used in catalytic converters, jewelry, dentistry and other industries.

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