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Kennecott Utah Copper avoids more layoffs — for now — after massive April landslide

SOUTH JORDAN — A massive landslide at the Bingham Canyon Mine in April that forced Kennecott Utah Copper to dramatically cut costs won't include another layoff — for now.

The company said Tuesday it was able to offer alternative jobs to union workers covered under the collective bargaining agreement that would otherwise be hit by the cost-cutting measures.

Late last month, Kennecott let go about 100 salaried workers in various, mostly supervisory, positions across the operation.

“While difficult, I’m proud of the work that our people have done to create sustainable cost reductions while reducing impacts to our employees,” Kelly Sanders, Rio Tinto Kennecott president and CEO, said in news release. “I recognize that employees across our organization are working hard to help the business succeed in this challenging time.”

Wayne Holland, United Steelworkers international staff representative, said 34 workers in the smelter and concentrator will be offered jobs for comparable pay at the tailings pond or the mine.

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

Initially, the company was looking at a 35 percent reduction in force, he said.

"A lot of hard work came to fruition," Holland said.

Kennecott said the impact was minimized due to the approximately 130 retirement-eligible union employees who accepted a one-time $20,000 resignation incentive that expired Friday. About 270 workers were eligible for early retirement bonus.

The company has also significantly reduced overtime, eliminated unfilled positions and reduced contracts for services. It also asked 2,100 employees to take vacation or unpaid leave.

An enormous wall of dirt rumbled down the northeast section of the open-pit mine April 10, nearly filling the bottom. No workers were injured, but roads, buildings and vehicles were damaged.

As a result, Kennecott anticipates production will drop at least 50 percent this year. Company officials say further cost reductions will be required as they finalize a long-term operations plan.

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said remediation and recovery efforts are going well, but the company is taking a realistic approach to the challenges ahead.

"We feel like we're making good progress, but that's not an indication of what will happen tomorrow," he said.

The landslide also forced at least one contractor at Bingham Canyon to let workers go.

Mining construction contractor Cementation USA laid off about 45 miners in April.

Kennecott hired the Sandy company in fall 2011 to dig tunnels as part of an expansion project to extend the life of the mine. The area where it was working is now buried.

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