Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Vale Inco seems to be charging ahead with its seat-of-the-pants training scheme in hopes of restarting at least some production at their Ontario mines and smelters. To say the least this is a chancy ploy. There are indeed ex-workers amongst the non-union personnel who were involved in production for a varying number of years. Consider this for a moment. Too few years ie if you were an Einstein of ass-kissing, and you are still green. Too many means you were promoted so long ago that you can remember mining techniques from the neolithic but nothing very recent. Let alone the fact that those with any direct experience of production will be expected to train managerial neophytes chop-chop. In others words a situation of large moving machinery and potentially dangerous materials that no sensible person would care to be around.

Here from the pages of the Sudbury Star is the most recent union response to this reckless idea. The following came to Molly's attention, as usual, from the strike support site Fair Deal Now.
Union angry, but not surprised, by Vale Inco's decision to resume some production:
Posted By Carol Mulligan/The Sudbury Star
United Steelworkers Local 6500 president John Fera says he was disappointed and angry - but not surprised - about Vale Inco Ltd.'s announcement it intends to resume partial operations at its striking Sudbury plants.

Vale Inco's John Pollesel, president of production services and support for Canada/UK Operations and general manager of Ontario operations, sent an e-mail to employees Tuesday telling them of the company's decision.

"Training of selected employees is beginning this week to facilitate the process and help us to continue supplying customers, generating cash flow and providing meaningful employment for staff," he said.

Fera said it was "putting it mildly" to say he was disappointed in the Brazilian-owned subsidiary of Vale SA and its chief executive officer, Roger Agnelli.

What really angers him is the effort the company is apparently putting into getting some plants running again instead of trying to get back to the bargaining table with striking production and maintenance workers.

The union and the mining company bargained for more than three months to try to reach a collective agreement, but Vale Inco's settlement offer was rejected by 85 per cent of the Steelworkers who voted on it.

Fera said he found out about Vale Inco's intent to resume work at some plants when he met Tuesday morning with Pollesel about the strike protocol that had been hammered out between USW and the company in court.

Vale Inco spokesman Steve Ball said the decision was made based on what is best for the company and to ensure there is work for 1,200 management, staff and members of USW Local 2020 during the labour dispute.

The plan is to resume some scale of operation at Coleman and Garson mines, and crush ore from them at Clarabelle Mill.

Copper and precious metals will be extracted and concentrated from the ore and then sold, said Ball. The nickel will not be processed.

There are no plans at this point to operate the Copper Cliff smelter, he said.

Fera said Vale Inco's plan to restart operations on a limited scale has him questioning the position that has been its mantra for several months - that the company must remain "cash-positive in all business cycles."

The union leader said this move makes him question that logic.

Fera challenges how it is "cash-positive" to produce copper that is selling for about $2.70 a pound when nickel is selling for $9.

Ball wouldn't reveal any figures, but he said precious metals sell for considerably more than copper. The goal is to have some revenue coming in, at least enough to keep the people in the plants employed.

Vale is also looking at bringing in a small number of other workers to run operations, said Ball.

Nickel Belt and Sudbury Nickel Belt MPs Claude Gravelle and Glenn Thibeault were quick to condemn Vale Inco for its decision.

They warn about the dangers of running potentially environmentally dangerous plants with inexperienced workers.

"This does nothing to help resolve the current dispute," said Thibeault in a written statement.
"This is a total slap in the face to the Steelworkers union and it's hard-working members."

Thibeault and Gravelle are again calling on the Harper Conservatives to release details of the agreement Vale signed with Investment Canada after acquiring Inco close to three years ago.
Gravelle said he is also concerned for the health and safety of non-unionized staff personnel, who will be tackling new jobs with minimal training.

"This is a big mistake by Vale," said Gravelle. "I worked at Inco for 34 years and I can tell you that a few days of training for replacement workers is not enough to keep people safe underground."
One of the more interesting points raised by the above article is that Vale Inco and the Canadian government have basically made a secret agreement governing the takeover of Inco. Perish forbid that our dear beloved comrade leader Sneaky Stevie Harper could ever be accused of being secretive or hiding anything from either Parliament or the Canadian public. We, of course, would never believe such a thing of our Dear Leader, the heir of the Great Leader 'Brian Il Sung'. Deception is as far away from their benevolent and glorious concern for the welfare of the people as the edge of the universe is from Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. Or do I miss something here ? Could it be that such a agreement should be in public view so the public can see exactly what has been promised ? Is it possible that an audit of at least the members of the present Cabinet to see if they have any investment connections to Vale Inco or any of its subsidiaries is in order ? It seems to this little cat that the Canadian public has a right to know about potential conflicts of interest and that secret agreements are not the way that government business should be done.


"JOLTIN' JOE' said...

Subject: F.Y.I: Strike breaking?: Vale Inco resumes partial operations

The Investment Canada Act came into existence to ensure foreign investment was to the net benefit of Canada and Canadians.

US Steel has been charged with not living up to the terms of its agreement when the Government agreed to its purchase of Stelco.

US Steel and Vale (Vale S.A.) of Brazil have both ceased production in the Canadian assets they were allowed to purchase. In both cases, according to local media, the foreign owners are engaged in pressing for, by Canadian standards, drastic revision of contracts.

According to the Simcoe Reformer "U.S. Steel wants a wage freeze, the elimination of cost-of-living allowances, an end to profit-sharing, the introduction of drug co-payments, a reduction in severance pay and the conversion of the company's defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan" Locked out - Simcoe Reformer - Ontario, CA

According to the Sudbury Star "Members of Locals 6500 and 6200, which bargain together with Vale Inco, said they rejected the company's settlement offer because it contained concessions, such as a less desirable pension plan for new hires, reduced nickel bonuses and limits on seniority transfers to different workplaces." Vale Inco training regime alarms union

Two videos The Real News Network - Canadian miners strike global giant The Real News Network - What it takes to be number one examine the Vale Inco strike, company aims and Government reaction.

To this point all action taken by Inco Vale has been accepted by the Government. Inco did nothing wrong: was Minister Clement's opinion stated yesterday.

Most certainly actions by foreign owners to reduce workers contracts from what they were prior to purchase is not of "net benefit" to Canada and Canadians.

"Vale CEO Roger Agnelli said he would bring in temp workers to cross picket lines at Vale Inco in an effort to resume operations as labor talks continue with United Steel Workers. " VALE DJ Brazil's Vale CEO: Temporary Workers Possible At Inco - Estado .

"Office, clerical and technical workers at Vale Inco Ltd. have been told to get ready for underground work " and "A "very limited" number of people would be hired "from the outside," said Ball, to do work that management and staff are not trained to do." Vale Inco to send office, clerical and technical workers underground: source - The Sudbury Star - Ontario

Will a "very limited" number of people being hired "from the outside,'"" be considered strike breaking or be seen as doing "nothing wrong" ?

A question yet to be decided.

Vale Inco resumes partial operations during strike

mollymew said...

Dear Joe,
Please elaborate on what you have posted. I find it every interesting. To the naive reader I might mention that Joe's discussion of Stelco and US Steel refers to another labour dispute in southern Ontario in which the company has locked out the workers. I've meant to mention that dispute here at Molly's blog for some time.
All this trends towards another (Oh God yet another !) modification of this blog. Coming soon---Molly's Suggestion Box for stories that the readers think I should cover. No doubt the above mentioned lockout is one such thing.

"JOLTIN' JOE' said...

Retraining staff is not strike breaking . . . bringing in non-staff is.

There is a pattern cut production, press for alteration of contracts in both the Stelco and Inco operations.

Interestingly there is a Canadian firm suggesting it would purchase Stelco. "Lakeside steel wants former Stelco plants"

The following article provides ammunition for we'uns that are "nationalists" though I prefer the term patriots.

Not all posted due to length limitations.

Joe Hueglin

Inco, Stelco: the dark side of foreign takeovers

WHERE WERE THE economic nationalists back in 2006 and 2007 when foreign firms gobbled up so many Canadian industrial giants, among them Inco, Falconbridge, Stelco and Abitibi?

Our suspicion is that they were alive and even speaking out, but few of us listened. After all, stockholders were reaping huge benefits, our Loonie was soaring and we were being assured that all the acquisitions would be to Canada's long-term benefit.

But as we all now know, any benefits have by and large proved illusory, particularly in the case of Stelco and Inco, and our confident expectation is that the same will hold true for the auctioned assets of Nortel.

In the case of Stelco, the behaviour of its new owner, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel, has been particularly offensive and the federal government's response weak-kneed at best.

There seems no doubt that the government approved Stelco's sale in part because of assurances that it would be a net benefit to Canada, the buyer having promised to maintain both production and employment.

Instead, in part responding to the offensive Buy America requirement in Washington's economic stimulus package, U.S. Steel has shut down Stelco's plants in Hamilton and Nanticoke and is currently producing steel only in the U.S.

In an interview with the Sudbury Star, he even claimed that without Vale the local community would have been a "Valley of Death."

The remark ignored the reality that at the time of the sale Inco was reaping huge profits and was the target of a bidding war among three suitors.

Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, a former NDP Member of Parliament, said the minister's comments couldn't be farther from the truth, and that he wants Mr. Clement to come and see how things really are. And the United Steelworkers union has supported a call by two local MPs for the minister's resignation over his "misleading" and "disparaging remarks" about Sudbury.

Some Sudbury residents attribute Mr. Clement's different treatment of U.S. Steel and Vale to political reality, with the Conservatives hoping to gain Hamilton-area seats in the next federal election while having little or no hope for a win in the Nickel Belt.

Whether or not that's the case, it's surely in Canada's best interests that the government enforce all commitments made during a foreign takeover.