Kentucky miners (
by Steve Timmer
Jul 29, 2013, 2:30 PM

Glencore: corporate citizen Part II

Burger flippers with picks and shovels

The first part of this series had a pithy quote from Senator John Tester of Montana about a Glencore aluminum plant in Montana:

A frustrated Tester said last week he can no longer take Glencore at its word. He said the company strung him and BPA [Bonneville Power Association] along during power contract negotiations and has proven to only care about maximizing profit, not providing jobs in a depressed area of Montana that needs them.

Glencore is the largest investor in PolyMet Mining Corp. (a Canadian company) which through its wholly-owned environmental liability-dodging subsidiary, PolyMet Mining, Inc., wants to dig an open pit sulfide mine near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota. The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch recently described Glencore as PolyMet Mining Corp.’s strategic investor. Everyone else is “non-strategic” and just along for the ride. There is another term for strategic investor: “shot caller.”

In the linked story, Market Watch reports that PolyMet’s CFO Douglas Newby said PolyMet is “well financed [it just borrowed another $60 million] to complete the permitting process and pre-construction engineering necessary to move the project rapidly into the construction phase.” Translation: We don’t have the money to actually run a mine.

But there you have it kids. No need for those troublesome dog-and-pony shows that DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said he wants to call. It’s a done deal!

PolyMet (Inc. or Corp.?) says that the mine will provide 360 permanent jobs, and “600 indirect ones.” (This is down substantially from earlier wild and optimistic exaggeration, but this is hardly an impressive number for the havoc a sulfide mine would bring.) But as the Tester quote from the story about the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company illustrates, employment in a commodities-related business is hardly “permanent.” You could ask the taconite miners in northern Minnesota for confirmation of that.

But these will be good union jobs, right? Not subject to being cashiered on a moment’s notice without any severance after decades of service, as Glencore did with the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company! Surely not!

Well, here’s Reuters describing the situation at a coal mine in Australia recently acquired by Glencore:

Thiess, a unit of Leighton Holdings, said it gave pink slips to 321 workers at the mine on Wednesday. The mine currently has a workforce of about 420, of which 400 are Thiess [the mine operator] employees, according to Glencore.

Key in determining whether or not workers will be re-hired is whether or not they agree to new terms of employment under Glencore.

“Under the current workplace agreement, it is going to be very difficult for the mine to be viable in the future,” Glencore spokesman Francis Derosa said.

Sad, but entirely predictable.

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