Chapter officials discuss mine jobs with NTEC

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON – Officials from four local chapters talked recently with Navajo Transitional Energy Company officials about the outlook for jobs at the Navajo Mine.

The District 13 Council, which consists of officials from the Nenanezad, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad and Upper Fruitland chapters, are concerned about the possibility of Navajo workers losing jobs after the North American Coal Corp. assumes management of the mine when BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal ends its operating contract in December.

A drag line operates in March at the Dixon Pit at Navajo Mine in Fruitland.

Dan Ware, BHP Billiton spokesman, said in an email Friday the mine employs a total of 375 people, 80 percent of whom are Navajo. Out of that number, 235 are hourly employees and are under a collective bargaining agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 953, Ware said.

During a regular meeting Tuesday at the Walter Collins Center in Upper Fruitland, several council members listened to a presentation by NTEC CEO Clark Moseley that addressed the concerns outlined in an invitation he received from the leaders. The invitation letter mentioned the council's concern that Navajo employees will be replaced at the mine.

Moseley said NTEC does not understand where that rumor started, but it was raised after an email circulated that contained a list of attendees for a transitional meeting between NTEC, North American Coal and BHP Billiton.

“NTEC nor North American Coal have never shared this email with parties outside of NTEC, North American Coal or BHP, and we assert that any email between these parties be held in confidence,” Moseley said.

He reminded chapter officials that when NTEC was selecting the mine manager, a key point in the selection process was finding a manager that would comply with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act and the Navajo Business Opportunity Act.

“So Navajo people have a chance and an opportunity for themselves,” he said adding that NTEC and North American Coal take tribal laws “very seriously."

He added that workers under the collective bargaining agreement will not be affected by the transition, but not all positions will be saved. Employees who could lose their jobs would be in management and in professional development, he said.

Joshua Kantor, BHP Billiton superintendent of drilling and blasting, leads a tour Thursday at the Navajo Mine in Fruitland.

As part of the mine manager selection process, NTEC realized that North American Coal would need to bring in a core staff of managers and professionals who can facilitate its company culture, he said.

After listening to the presentation, San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez wanted to know approximately how many Navajos will lose their jobs.

“We do not wish to have our people — our Navajo employees — be pushed out of their positions,” Nez said.

In response, Moseley reiterated that North American Coal will comply with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act, and workers are protected by the collective bargaining agreement, but some job loss could occur through retirement.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, who represents the Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K'aan and Upper Fruitland chapters, said he was attending the meeting as a council delegate and not as speaker of the tribal council. After recounting how the Navajo Mine was acquired by the tribe and presenting a history of the work completed by NTEC, he said there continues to be anxiety among employees and families within the District 13 Council boundaries.

Bates added he made it clear to Moseley and North American Coal that the District 13 leadership has always supported BHP Billiton and APS, and now supports NTEC.

"But I've also told them ... that the first time you go against any one of these chapters, they will turn,” Bates said.

A bulldozer shovels coal in March at the Dixon Pit at the Navajo Mine in Fruitland.

Upper Fruitland Vice President Lenora Williams said in addition to continuing job security, it is important for North American Coal to consider Navajo culture and values when the company establishes its management. Williams said she would like to see a “nice, smooth transition without hurting any employees.”

Moseley said as the transition moves ahead, there will be the opportunity for chapter officials to meet with North American Coal representatives.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.