Locked out Rio Tinto workers in London to denounce mining giant's Olympic role

OTTAWA – Officials of the union representing locked out Rio Tinto Alcan workers in Quebec were in London on Monday to denounce the mining giant’s participation in the upcoming Olympic Games.

Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) supplied metal for the 4,700 medals that will be handed out to the gold, silver and bronze medal finishers at the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics.

The United Steelworkers, which represents 780 employees in Alma, Que., who were locked out Dec. 31, joined the London Mining Network group in denouncing the company’s environmental record and its relationship with workers.

In a video posted online, the group said that “injustice and pollution tarnish the Olympic medals.”

It held a news conference Monday demanding the Games dissociate themselves from the company.

Union representative Guy Farrell, who participated in the news conference, said Rio Tinto’s actions are “immoral.”

“The Olympics are prestigious. It does not make sense to let Rio Tinto supply the Olympic medals,” he said in a telephone interview from London.

Farrell said that during their visit union activists plan to follow Rio Tinto officials around the British capital.

“You won’t be able to hide,” he said. “No matter where you are going to go, we’ll be there. We will hound you.”

The steelworkers also plan demonstrations in Quebec City next month where International Olympic Committee representatives will participate in a gathering of 1,500 members of major sports federations.

A protest March 31 in Alma attracted several thousand people, including union officials from outside the country.

Rio Tinto spokesman Bryan Tucker said the company is in contact with a mediator in the dispute with the Quebec workers but “there are no talks scheduled with the union at this time.”

The Quebec Superior Court has limited the number of people that can join the picket line near the company’s aluminum processing plant, about 225 kilometres north of Quebec City.

The union has said the major issue is the company’s increasing use of subcontractors to replace workers who retire.

The Alma facility, one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s most important North American aluminum smelters, is currently operating at about one-third of its 438,000-tonne capacity.