Union leader Richard Boyce said Tuesday he's had no significant blowback from senior management or the rank and file over his stand against the proposed Ajax mine.
Boyce told a Rotary gathering on Monday that the proposed mine site is too close to the city. He told reporters that he was speaking as an individual and on behalf of United Steelworkers local 7619.
But on Tuesday, Boyce said he was speaking primarily as a concerned citizen — not as the union representative of 1,000 Highland Valley Copper miners — when he told a Rotary gathering on Monday that the proposed mine site is too close to the city.
"I wrestled with my conscience, coming out swinging on this one," he said. "I knew there would be a down side."
Bill Ferguson, a longtime executive member of Kamloops and District Labour Council, applauded Boyce's stand.
"Leaders, like everyone else, make mistakes, and he's man enough to speak out," Ferguson said.
Some feel Boyce has reversed the position he took almost two years ago, when United Steelworkers local 7619 had a falling out with Kamloops and District Labour Council over the same issue.
After consulting its members, the council stood against the mine development. Ultimately, the mine local disaffiliated from the council due to the disagreement.
But Boyce said that's not how the issue played out.
"Richard never said he was in favour of that project," he said, referring to himself in the third person.
His was a principled stand the union took, based on the belief that the labour council acted prematurely in publicly opposing the mine before having complete information, he said. At the time, he said he wanted to wait for more information before making up his mind.
He's since formed the opinion that Kamloops shouldn't hold its breath.
"I'm here to tell you that the information will never be here. We'll never get the kind of clarity that the people of Kamloops need to decide whether it will be healthy once the mine opens."
He also doesn't think the provincial government has the resources to properly monitor and enforce the mine's operation.
KGHM International has declined to comment on Boyce's stand.
Boyce said he's received one negative phone message from an individual who owns "a significant amount of shares," in KGHM International. Another message was left with Steve Hunt, Steelworkers Area Three director in Vancouver. That caller swore he'd work to ensure that Boyce, who has led his local for the past 25 years, doesn't get elected again.
Boyce said he doesn't plan to run again in any case.
The union local's decision to quit the labour council remains an anomaly within Canadian organized labour, council president Peter Kerek.
"We've had an open invitation for them to come back to the labour council. It was their decision to leave; we never asked them to leave."
As a member union of the Canadian Labour Council, the Steelworkers local is obligated to belong to the local labour council, Kerek said.
"They disaffiliated, so it's up to the Steelworkers, the members, to figure out how the local is affiliated to the labour council."
Kerek thought Boyce was representing his local when he spoke on Monday. From his conversations with Steelworker members, he wasn't surprised that Boyce would publicly take a stand in opposition to Ajax.
"I think it definitely does increase the level of solidarity for the union leadership in this area against the mine development," Kerek said.
"We're in the living industry," he said of the council, referring to a broader outlook that encompasses quality of life considerations.