- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Union workers have again rejected a proposed four-year contract with the only company mining platinum and palladium in the United States.

Stillwater Mining Co. employees voted down a contract Monday night that would keep the pay and benefits of about 900 Montana miners mostly consistent with the contract that ended hours after they rejected the same proposal in early June.

“The second ratification vote has failed,” said a voice message Tuesday morning at the office of United Steelworkers Local 11-0001 in Columbus. “We are still in negotiations process. Keep reporting to work.”

The local chapter announced the decision on its website, but did not include a vote tally. Union representatives have not returned calls Monday or Tuesday.

Stillwater CEO Michael “Mick” McMullen said the company is considering long-term alternatives to the employee contract following the workers’ decision.

“Given that we’ve seen our metal price fall by 20, 22 percent this year, we need to look at all options to cut costs,” McMullen said.

He declined to provide any specifics before the company releases its second-quarter earnings report Friday, when the metals market’s impact on Montana’s largest mining company will become clearer.

“With commodity prices so low, everything’s on the table,” Stillwater spokeswoman Jennifer Lawson said. “We report to our shareholders and, you know, the company has to make money.”

Workers were outraged this year to learn that McMullen received an 8 percent raise while the company cuts elsewhere to cope with the declining precious metal prices. Stillwater laid off 11 workers two weeks ago.

United Steelworkers’ negotiating committee and McMullen have signed off on the contract that was proposed in May, but workers have said it could reduce their take-home pay. It would change production incentives that could raise or lower what miners make depending on their work and metals prices.

Between company informational sessions on the industry and union meetings, McMullen said the contract dispute has significantly affected business and he’s disappointed there’s no end in sight.

“We’d like to try to get something done here,” McMullen said. “It is a very tough metal market right now.”

The current labor negotiations affect employees at the mine in Nye and the smelter and refinery complex in Columbus. They have continued to work under the terms of the old contract since it expired on June 12.

A different contract covering about 400 workers at Stillwater’s East Boulder mine south of Big Timber will expire at the end of the year.

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