Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The end of the 2009-10 strike at Vale in Sudbury and Port Colburgh left company management emboldened. From their point of view they had beaten the union, USW Local 6500, and could do whatever they wanted. This included refusing to rehire 9 workers who had been fired for union activity during the strike despite an Ontario Labour Relations Board that the company's actions were "patently unreasonable". More ominously Vale has persisted in unsafe working conditions that have killed 4 workers since the end of the strike. Here's the story from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions. The story contains links to a summary and full report of a health and safety audit carried out by the union itself- the company refused to collaborate in such an audit.

Safety, Union Busting Haunts Vale inside Sudbury, Canada, Mines

If anyone needs further proof to Vale’s global social neglect, it comes in a pair of dirty deeds committed by the Brazilian mining company in and after the bitter 2009-10 strike at a major nickel and copper operation in Sudbury, Ontario.

One involves circumstances surrounding two deaths inside Vale’s Frood-Stobie Mine on 8 June 2011 and the other is added legal proof that Vale’s strong-arm tactics in firing union activists during the United Steelworkers (USW) strike was meant to hinder legal collective bargaining.

An extensive report issued 29 February by the USW over the June 2011 deaths of Jordan Fram, 26, an equipment operator, and Jason Chenier, 35, a supervisor, was done because Vale refused the offer of the USW to investigate the accident jointly. USW blames negligent water drainage maintenance directly tied to lax and “little experience or training” of front-line supervisors.

Fram and Chenier were buried 900 metres underground by an overflow of muck, a term for an avalanche of wet rock, gravel, sand, water washing down a mine shaft. Even though USW Local 6500 is the legitimate bargaining representative, the report notes, “Vale officials refused to be interviewed by members of the USW team” even though union members “cooperated fully in management’s investigation.”

The Executive Summary and the full 207-page USW Report are here.

The week before USW issued the report, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) ruled that Vale violated provincial labour law by maintaining a “patently unreasonable” stance over nine workers Vale fired for strike activity. The OLRB agreed with the USW that the nine trade unionists were denied rights to third-party arbitration by the company, and further cited Vale for “troubling” labour relations conduct across several areas.

In January, the OLRB cited Vale with union interference for denying entry onto company property for one of the nine discharged workers is the elected head of Local 6500’s Grievance Committee. The USW is now confident that arbitrated decisions will prevail and the nine workers will return to their rightful jobs.

The USW District Director for Ontario and the Atlantic Region, Wayne Fraser, said the OLRB’s 24 February ruling “should give Vale pause to consider the hardship inflicted on families,” adding that the unlawful conduct “prolonged the suffering and uncertainty for families in our community.”Vale’s safety record in Canada was tarnished again on 29 January 2012 when 47-year-old Stephen Perry, an explosives worker, was crushed to death when a rock face collapsed on him while he was working in a lift basket. This death occurred 1,300 metres inside Vale’s Coleman nickel mine near Sudbury.

A fourth Canadian Vale death in 2011 occurred on 19 October when 51-year-old scooptram operator Greg Leason was killed when his machine fell 40 metres into a cavern inside the T-3 Mine in Thompson, Manitoba.

Historically, the four 2011 deaths at Vale in Canada are atypical because the USW is a vigilant proponent of joint labour-management process safety procedures that prevent workplace accidents. But with Vale’s hostile labour relations still simmering some 20 months after the strike, no cooperation with the union over health and safety issues is proving detrimental to workplace safety

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