Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The strike of Local 9508 of the USW against Vale Inco in Voisey's Bay Newfoundland has been ongoing since August 1. Just like in Ontario the company is determined not to give an inch, and they have now threatened to reopen production using non-striking workers. Here's the bare facts from the Canadian Press.
Non-striking workers to restart mine in Voisey's Bay, N.L. after talks break down:
TORONTO — Brazilian miner Vale Inco says it will resume production at its Voisey's Bay mine in Labrador after contract talks with its union broke down over the weekend.

The company will use non-striking employees to do the work of striking miners.

The United Steelworkers agreed to go back to the bargaining table in Labrador after Vale submitted a new proposal workers called "conciliatory."

However, labour talks broke down almost immediately.

Workers in Voisey's Bay have been on strike since Aug. 1, when they joined more than 3,000 striking Vale employees in the northern Ontario city of Sudbury.

The company accused the Steelworkers of using their Labrador members as leverage for the ongoing strike in Sudbury, where no talks have been scheduled.
Here are more details from the CBC.
Vale Inco to resume Voisey's Bay mine despite strike:
Announcement comes day after talks to end Labrador mine strike break off
Less than 24 hours after talks to end a dispute between striking Labrador nickel mine
workers and Vale Inco broke off, the company has announced that it will resume production.

In a release late Monday afternoon, the company said it will start training on-site employees who are not on strike, and will resume operations once that training is complete.

The striking workers, represented by the United Steelworkers Union, have been off the job for almost six months in a dispute where the contentious issue appears to about the company's proposal to freeze wages and roll back an employee bonus plan.

"Although we would prefer to be operating normally," said Bob Carter, spokesperson for Vale Inco in Newfoundland and Labrador, in the release, "the local USW negotiating team remains unable to bargain with authority in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"As such, the resumption of production is the most responsible course of action for the business. It enables us to provide meaningful employment for the more than 250 employees who are not on strike and it helps meet the needs of our customers who rely on us," he said.

Carter told CBC News that the on-site employees the company plans to use to restart the mine are non-unionized.

The release said that during three days of negotiations, the union's negotiating team "refused to engage in any meaningful discussions on monetary issues."
Still seeking concessions: union
The union representing workers told CBC News earlier that negotiations to reopen the Voisey's Bay mine in northern Labrador broke off after 11 p.m. NT on Sunday.

Steelworkers union representative Boyd Bussey told CBC News that Vale Inco is still seeking concessions from the striking workers.

The company has been looking for a three-year wage freeze and wants to roll back an employee bonus tied to the price of nickel.

Bussey said the company wants to be able to contract work out to non-union members.

He said that after three days of negotiations, the two sides are still a long way from reaching a deal.

"I see us further apart, actually very, very disappointing," said Steelworkers representative Boyd Bussey
'We're at an impasse'
Bussey says the company stonewalled on everything from money, to contract length, to the suddenly-thorny issue of contracting out work to non-union companies.

"This issue has really, really become very important for the union," said Bussey. "It's pointless for us to even get increases in wages if we're not going to have jobs, if they're going to contract our jobs out."

Before the decision to restart the mine was made public, Vale Inco officials said it was the union that stalled the talks.

"There's no tentative agreement, unfortunately, we're at an impasse. From our perspective, it was very apparent that the Steelworkers were not prepared to conclude a deal with us," said company spokesman Bob Carter.

Both sides said they're prepared to sit down to talk again, but nobody's saying when that might happen.
Ah, but the union seems to have secret allies in this dispute- a combination of Mother Nature and management ignorance. The ore that is mined in Voisey's Bay is not processed on site. It has to be shipped elsewhere, either to Sudbury or to Thompson in Manitoba. There's a little problem with that right now; it's called "winter". The following article from the Sudbury Star explains this a bit more. The whole scenario conjures up an amusing comedy sketch of some lower level office flunky trying to explain "freeze-up" to one of the higher ups down in Rio Di Janeiro. Never let reality get in the way of a good management plan I guess. Whether the plan is demented or not.
Nature may thwart Voisey's Bay production:
Vale Inco's decision to resume production in Voisey's Bay during a strike is an in-your-eye gesture to Steelworkers, says the director of the union for Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

But Mother Nature may thwart plans to move nickel concentrate produced in Labrador out of the province, says Wayne Fraser.

"The seaways are closed until April," said Fraser, director of USW District 6, on Tuesday.

He also questioned the ability of Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador to "be successful in mining, milling and doing all the things they need to do in Voisey's Bay with a very small amount of people, unqualified people."

Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador spokesman Bob Carter said the company is training its workforce that is not on strike.

About 200 members of USW Local 9508 have been on strike since Aug. 1 over issues such as contracting out and the nickel bonus. The company has another 250 or so employees.

A recent set of talks between the company and the union ended unsuccessfully late Sunday.

"Training will take as long as is required to ensure that people who are assigned new duties are able to do them safely, which is our top priority, and competently," said Carter in an interview from St. John's, NL.

"When we are at a point that we feel the workforce is ready to begin production, we will do so."

Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador operates an open pit mine and mill at Voisey's Bay.
Because the operation went into production in 2005, programs and trainers are still in place "to move forward," said Carter.

Fraser said Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador's decision to resume production is "very clearly an attempt by Vale to say, 'In your eye, Steelworkers. In your eye, members of the Steelworkers' union. We're going to try to do what we can to move ahead with our plans.' "
The District 6 director challenged critics who claimed the bargaining committee for USW Local 9508 had no authority to make decisions during negotiations -- "that everything was being controlled by Sudbury.

"That's an absolute lie," said Fraser. "Our (Voisey's Bay) bargaining committee was there to try to get a deal."

What stopped them, said Fraser, "was the company's insistence they have a right to contract out any kind of work the members are currently doing. The bonus remained as they proposed.
They even want to change the term of the contract. A lot of issues were not addressed by the company," he said.

Feed from Voisey's Bay is usually sent to Vale Inco's Ontario and Thompson, Man., facilities for further refining.
So Molly leaves you with the image of 50,000 dog teams valiantly struggling across northern Québec and Ontario (and maybe into Manitoba too) bringing the ore to Sudbury or Thompson. It's the sort of thing of which epic movies are made. To follow this important Canadian strike check in regularly to the strike support site Fair Deal Now.


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