Sunday, July 19, 2009

The following article from the Niagara This Week paper comes Molly's way via the Fair Deal Now website, set up by the Vale Inco strikers to present their case about the strike. It tells about one of the main reasons for the strike, the company's plans (plots????) for reducing their pension liabilities.

Inco workers strike to save pension plan:

About 120 Port Colborne steel workers have joined more than 3,000 of their Sudbury counterparts in a strike after rejecting a contract offer from Vale Inco Sunday.
Unionized workers at the company’s nickel mine in Sudbury and its nickel refinery in Port Colborne went on strike Monday when neither side could come to terms on bonuses, pensions and other issues.
“Our beef is not with the company, it’s with the new owners,” said Barry Hendle, a member of the United Steelworkers Union Local 6200, which represents the Port Colborne workers. “They want a lot of concessions from us in the way the pension and bonus system is set up.”
Hendle, an electrician, was one of about 10 workers manning the picket line outside the Vale Inco plant on Nickel Street Tuesday. He said they are getting a lot of support from people in the community, many of whom have relatives or know someone who works or worked at the plant, which has been in operation since the early 1900s.
Port Colborne’s nickel plant has three main operations: precious metals, cobalt refining and nickel processing and packaging.
Wayne Rae, president of USW Local 6200, said the strike affects 115 union members and about 55 to 60 non-unionized employees.
“They want to change our culture here in Canada,” Rae said. “They don’t want longtime people, they don’t want pension liabilities.”
Rae, who has been involved in contract negotiations since April, said the Brazilian-owned company has basically refused to budge from its initial offer.
The contract offer submitted by Vale would deny new employees from the company’s pension plan, which guarantees employees a reliable and steady income after retirement. Instead, the company would provide new workers with a different plan, which bases retirement benefits on profits.
“They’re trying to create a two-tiered pension, creating friction between new workers and old workers,” Rae said.
Vale Inco has said the Sudbury mining operation is not sustainable at current nickel prices. The price of nickel, used to manufacture stainless steel, has plunged from a high of nearly $25 a pound in 2007 to under $7 per pound today due to slumping demand for the metal used in everything from appliances to automobiles.
Rae said 95 per cent of his members rejected the offer in a ratification vote Sunday. Eighty-five per cent of the roughly 3,300 unionized workers at Vale’s Sudbury operations, represented by USW Local 6500, voted to reject the company’s contract offer.
“They want to cap the bonuses. They don’t want to give the cost of living allowance. There’s so many issues on the table, it’s the whole contract,” Rae said.
Employees at Vale’s Labrador operations have also voted to reject a final contract offer from the company, so unless a compromise is reached, the 450 workers at the Voisey’s Bay mine and nickel processing plant are set to strike Aug. 1.
Hendle said the company has a stockpile of nickel, which could signal a long and protracted strike. But he said the workers are resolute.
“We’re in it for the long haul. Some of our guys have already taken part-time jobs,” he said.

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