MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada's Vale workers go south in protest

Published by MAC on 2009-08-03

Workers affected by the world's biggest iron ore company are linking hands across the American continent.

Trade unionists at Vale-Inco's Sudbury nickel operations in Canada, have headed for Brazil.

They will tell employees of the company there how the health and viability of their community is being threatened.

Vale Inco strike to reach Brazil

DENIS ST. PIERRE, The North Bay Nugget

31 July 2009

United Steelworkers members, on strike against Vale Inco in Sudbury, are heading to Brazil this weekend to escalate" their public campaign against the global mining giant and cement ties with international trade unionists.

At least a couple of Sudbury union representatives are travelling this weekend to Brazil -- headquarters of Vale SA -- and other members will replicate the trip in a couple of weeks, said Wayne Fraser, director of Steelworkers District 6.

They are going to meet with all the unions from Vale," Fraser said. They are having a collective bargaining session and our guys are going to be there."

Steelworkers representatives also will attend a conference in Brazil with 350 trade union leaders from around the world.

Our guys are going to make a presentation about what is happening with respect to the strike," Fraser said.

We are going to escalate our campaign against Vale, our corporate campaign worldwide against Vale in terms of their atrocious behaviour here in Canada."

About 3,100 members of Steelworkers Local 6500 in Sudbury, as well as 125 union members from Vale Inco's operation in Port Colborne, have been on strike since July 13. Contentious issues in the dispute include Vale's demands for changes to the workers' pension plan, a longstanding bonus tied to the price of nickel and seniority-based job transfer rights.

Another 450 Steelworkers members, employed at Vale Inco's operations at Voisey's Bay, N. L., are set to strike tomorrow.

The Steelworkers already have established what they term a strategic partnership" with unions in Brazil. The partnership pledges mutual support for workers in their respective negotiations with Vale.

Earlier this month, a Brazilian labour federation issued a public statement criticizing Vale and accusing the company of provoking a strike in Sudbury.

A multinational that has $22 billion of cash flow and shows $13.2 billion in profits in 2008, while supposedly caring for its image as a socially responsible company, doesn't need to squeeze workers and their communities," said Artur Henrique da Silva Santos, president of the CUT (Unified Workers' Central) Brazil.

Strikers website:

Letter to the Community

United Steelworkers

29 July 2009

Dear members of the community,

The workers at Vale-Inco have done everything we could to avoid a strike.

We know how hard this will be on our members and on our communities.

Equally, we also know how hard it would be on our members and their communities if we had accepted the company's demands for dramatic long-term restructuring and cuts to how we are compensated.

This round of bargaining has been nothing like the past negotiations with Inco. Vale, the new owner who currently is a massively profitable multinational from Brazil, has chosen to use the current economic conditions as simply an excuse to extract deep long-term cuts with little regard for maintaining the family incomes that sustain our communities.

The fact is that in the past two years, Vale has extracted twice as much profit from Ontario, as Inco had in the previous 10 years.

We understand these are very difficult economic times, and we let this fact guide us during the entire negotiating process. However, Vale's focus has not been on trying to find ways to get through these difficult times. (Given they have $22 Billion US of cash assets on hand, you can see why they are not as concerned about this issue as we thought they would be.)

Rather, their main focus has been on dramatically reducing a benefit that does not pay a single cent now (or in any economic hard time).

The nickel bonus is an innovative mechanism developed by Inco and USW to allow workers to partially benefit in good times and to help protect the company in bad times. The fact that Vale is attacking this benefit (that currently pays nothing) shows they are not motivated by the current economic situation.

Vale would rather use this moment to attack a fair mechanism knowing that good times will eventually return.

At the same time, it appears Vale is quite willing to give its senior executives a share of the profits now. Total compensation to the top six Vale executives increased by 120% in the last two years (from 2006 to 2008).

Still Vale insists they need to radically impose these concessions from their Canadian workers.

We believe that every person who lives or works in the communities of Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey's Bay should recognize that the health and viability of their community is being threatened.

The question is not whether Vale Inco can survive this economic recession. Their profits answer that question. The real question is whether our communities will have the crucial middle-class family incomes when we eventually come out of this recession.

For Canada, the question is whether our natural resources, and the hard and dangerous jobs involved in their extraction, can provide the reliable and
hardworking families a middle-class compensation.

For foreign companies to extract those Canadian resources and reap such substantial profits, but not provide our families and communities with hard-working secure incomes is just not right.

We ask for, and appreciate, your support.


USW locals 6500, 6200 and 6480


Vale Inco's union workers in Sudbury reject contract offer

Toronto Globe and Mail

13 July 2009

SUDBURY, ONT. - Union workers at Vale Inco's nickel operations in Sudbury have rejected a contract offered by the company and were set to strike last night at midnight.

More than 2,600 Vale mining and processing workers represented by the United Steelworkers in Sudbury voted on the company's contract offer Friday and Saturday.

Wayne Fraser, Steelworkers director for Ontario and Atlantic Canada and a member of the union's bargaining committee, said 85 per cent of the members rejected the contract.

"We told the company before we left that whenever they're willing and able to get back to the bargaining table and take off the concessions we're willing to bargain," Mr. Fraser said shortly after the results were in.

At issue was Vale's proposal to reduce a bonus tied to the price of nickel. In addition, workers opposed a plan by the company to exempt new employees from its defined benefit pension plan, which guarantees employees a reliable and steady income after retirement. The company is proposing to provide them with a defined contribution plan, which bases retirement benefits on investment returns.

Employees at the company's Voisey's Bay operations in Labrador voted 99 per cent against the same offer on Wednesday and will begin a strike on Aug. 1.

These were the first contract talks since Brazil-based Companhia Vale do Rio Doce bought the former Inco Ltd. for $19-billion in October, 2006.

Vale's Sudbury operations produce 10 per cent of the world's nickel supply, meaning a strike could squeeze global supplies and rapidly push the price of nickel higher than $10 (U.S.) per pound, analysts say.

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