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BIG TIMBER - Stillwater Mining Co. and the union representing miners announced Monday afternoon that they had reached a tentative agreement that could pave the way for 245 miners to return to work.

Eligible union workers will vote on the agreement following informational meetings at the Big Timber Civic Center on Wednesday. The last of the four meetings will take place at 6 p.m., after which the vote will be counted, said Steve Gentry, representative for USW International.

Last Monday, Stillwater idled its East Boulder mine after sending layoff notices to 526 employees. The company said it was permanently cutting its work force by as many as 320 workers and 50 contractors, about 21 percent of its 1,770-person work force.

If the newest contract proposal is ratified, approximately 204 hourly employees would be called back to work at the East Boulder mine and another 41 employees would be offered positions at the company's Nye operation. The 245 employees represent less than half of the 526 hourly and salaried Stillwater workers who received layoff notices a week ago.

The terms of the tentative agreement, which have not been released, would change the current collective bargaining agreement to allow for the company's restructuring. The plan calls for mining up to 120,000 ounces of platinum and palladium from the East Boulder next year, a reduction of 22 percent from this year's production.

John Stark, vice president at Stillwater Mining, said the company would act quickly should union members approve the proposal.

"We would attempt to get people back to work as soon as possible, almost immediately right after Thanksgiving," he said, noting that it would take a few days to get operations up and running. A skeleton crew has been working at the East Boulder in preparation for production to resume.

According to a joint press release, the company and the United Steel Workers Local 11-0001 realize the urgency of quickly concluding the restructuring negotiations so the employees, local communities, the state, the company and company stakeholders "can benefit from the results of the restructuring plan."

The tentative agreement does not affect the 113 salaried employees who were laid off from the East Boulder and Columbus facilities. The reduction in staff, which accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the company's salaried employees, is permanent, Stark said.


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