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Members will vote next week on contract

COLUMBIA FALLS - Glencore, the Swiss company that purchased the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. last month, has struck a deal that could put more money in employees' pockets.

CFAC's union, the Aluminum Workers Trade Council, and Glencore management reached a tentative agreement Friday to extend the current labor agreement for four years. The agreement, however, does include some economic and language changes that, union President Terry Smith said, are favorable to workers.

"I think it's a good contract for us," Smith said. "Better than the one we had, but not as good as when we had profit sharing. The profit-sharing deals were, of course, the best, but this is still a good contract."

Profit-sharing refers to a deal former CFAC owner Brace Duker struck with employees in 1985, when he promised to share half of all company profits with workers. For several years, 1,000 or so employees split profits totaling millions of dollars.

However, when profit shares ran out in early 1990s, workers sued, arguing that Duker was illegally withholding money to the tune of more than $150 million.

As attorneys maneuvered before trial, the union embarked on collective-bargaining negotiations during the summer of 1995. After a strike was narrowly averted, negotiations concluded with a contract that no longer included profit-sharing language.

Employees eventually settled the suit for $100 million just days before the trial was to begin in January 1998.

"Sure, it would be good to get the profit sharing back," Smith said. "But we are very satisfied with the deal that's on the table now."

Smith said union members attend informational meetings early next week, and will vote on the tentative agreement Thursday and Friday. He said most of the union's membership hasn't seen the particulars of the contract, and it's anybody's guess how the vote might turn out.

"I hate to predict things like that," Smith said. "But if I had to, I'd say it should be a go."

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