Saturday, July 25, 2009

While members of the United Steel Workers at the Vale Inco operations in Thompson, Manitoba have a contract with the company that is in effect until September 2011 that doesn't mean that they haven't been active in rallying support for their striking brothers and sisters. The following article from the Thompson Citizen tells how the Steelworkers in Thompson are working to rally public support behind their fellow workers. The following came to Molly's attention via the strike support site Fair Deal Now set up by the strikers. Drop by that site to get the latest updates on what is happening in Sudbury, Port Colborne and elsewhere.
Nychyporuk: USW Local 6166 backs Ontario union brothers and sisters at Vale Inco in Sudbury and Port Colborne:
John Barker
By John Barker
July 22, 2009
Thompson – Murray Nychyporuk, the recently elected president of United Steelworkers Local 6166 representing unionized labour at Vale Inco in Thompson, was at City Centre Mall July 18 to send out a strong message of solidarity with their unionized brothers and sisters on strike at the Brazilian mining giant’s Sudbury and Port Colborne operations in Ontario.

Steelworkers at Vale Inco in Ontario went on strike July 13 (see related story Pages 3 and 9). Workers at Vale Inco’s Voisey’s Bay operations in Labrador are set to strike in 12 days on Aug. 1. In the late 1970s, the Steelworkers waged a lengthy nine-month strike against Inco in Sudbury from Sept. 15, 1978 until June 7, 1979.

More than 4,900 grievances were filed between 2006 and 2009 by Steelworkers in Ontario against Vale Inco under the three-year collective bargaining agreement that recently expired. More than 1,700 of the grievances – 34 per cent – were about contracting out.

USW Local 6166 in Thompson, however, has a binding collective agreement with Vale Inco, signed last September, through Sept. 15, 2011.

The major issues of contention in both Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador surround company-proposed changes to the nickel bonus and a proposal for new hires to be put in a contribution-based pension benefit plan, which would result in two-tiered pensions.

The striking workers in Sudbury and Port Colborne receive $200 per week from the Steelworkers in strike pay.

Under the contract that just expired for Local 6500 in Sudbury and Local 6200 in Port Colborne, the triggering mechanism for the nickel price bonus is tied to Vale Inco’s profitability at the operation, providing nickel is trading above $2.25 per pound. The company has not paid nickel bonuses in 2009, claiming operations in Canada have not been profitable. The average hourly wage in Sudbury is $29 per hour, the Steelworkers say.

The old nickel price bonus did not have a maximum limit. With the proposed contract, the trigger would have been doubled to $5 per pound, and there would be a limit on money earned through the nickel bonus, capping at 75 percent of a total possible 20 per cent bonus of worker's hourly wages. The other 25 per cent of the possible maximum 20 per cent bonus would be made up by an Annual Incentive Plan, which would be measured by how profitable Vale Inco is at the time.

“The company proposal,” Nychyporuk said, for a two- component bonus plan, “is dramatically inferior to the current plan and would strip the workers (in Ontario and Labrador) from the benefits they deserve in good times.”

With a current average wage of $29 per hour, a 20 per cent cap would mean a maximum nickel price bonus payout of an additional $5.80 per hour. Currently there is no cap.

“What impact does this labour dispute (in Ontario) have on us in Northern Manitoba, when we have a binding contract until September 2011?” Nychyporuk asks. “The dark twisting path Vale Inco chose to seek, in the pursuit of concessions in Ontario, puts our workers in a state of troubled unrest. Make no mistake, we too may find ourselves in the very same position. A labour dispute in any community places undue stress and strain on its whole and directly affects the shopkeeper, banker, car salesman and ‘you.’”

Nychyporuk also challenges the notion Val Inco’s Canadian operations have not been profitable. While the company consistently refuses to break out financial figures for operations in Canada by region or any other way, the union said earlier this year Vale Inco claims to have lost $102 million in Thompson during the third and fourth quarters of 2008 – hence no nickel bonus.

“Vale Inco’s Canadian operations are extremely profitable,” Nychyporuk said. “The Ontario operations alone collected $4.1 billion from 2006 to 2008. Vale Inco is persistent on increasing these profits at the expense of their workers. Concessions in pensions, nickel bonus, cost of living allowance (COLA) and seniority rights are just some of the key issues in this labour dispute.”

Labour costs “account for less one-tenth of Vale’s cost,” Nychyporuk said, “and they have already clawed back nickel bonus earnings in Thompson, without releasing a clear explanation to our membership on the floor of their accounting practices versus profitability, which has left our members confused over whether or not they will ever obtain another nickel bonus payment.”

As for Sudbury and Port Colborne, Nychyporuk said, “These concessions (being sought by the company) are an outright attack on the workforce.”

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