MAC: Mines and Communities

Vale pseudo-negotiations condemned, as union rejects company's latest offer

Published by MAC on 2010-03-18
Source: The Sudbury Star (2010-03-12)

Canadian USW mineworkers have voted against an offer by mining giant, Vale, to settle a long-running strike. Union leaders claim that the company's "approach to bargaining in Canada stands in stark contrast with that of nickel miner Xstrata, which arranged for local management to settle a new contract without inciting a labour dispute."

While this may be strictly true, the statement stands in contrast to allegations by other USW workers in their continuing battle against Xstrata's coal operations in southern Australia. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9923

A meeting of social, environmental and labour groups from around the world to coordinate action on Vale is planned next month in Rio De Janeiro. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9831

[NB Vale took over Canada's premier nickel miner, Inco in 2007. Xstrata plc concluded its takeover of Canada's Falconbridge nickel corporation in November 2006. Xstrata acquired the Tahmoor mine from Austral Coal in October 2007.]


USW Local 6500 votes 88.7 per cent against Vale Inco offer

Results send strong message to company, says Fera

Carol Mulligan

The Sudbury Star

12 March 2010

Striking Sudbury Steelworkers say their door is open, their phones are plugged in and they're ready to sit down and negotiate with Vale Inco Ltd. after members voted 88.7 per cent to reject an offer to settle the strike Thursday.

In all, 2,371 strikers cast secret ballots - 2,105 against and 266 for - on an offer many said insulted them and made them fear for their job safety.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 president John Fera addressed reporters outside the lower hall of the Caruso Club about 11:20 p.m. after chief teller Lyle Young announced results of the vote held there earlier in the day.

A dozen or more strikers stood near the entrance of the hall and broke into applause when the results were announced.

"We're behind you," one shouted to Fera. "Amen," yelled another.

The overwhelming rejection vote should send a strong message to Vale Inco, said Fera.

"We're not happy that the strike continues," he said, "but we didn't have any choice."

After the union's bargaining committee explained the offer to members, "it was very very clear on where they stood."

Fera thanked members for their support and trust, and "for being as tough as they were after eight months.

"Vale thought that they were going to break these guys. It ain't gonna happen."

When asked where the union goes from here, Fera said that is a question that should be put to Vale Inco officials today (Friday).

"We're ready to negotiate, and hopefully the company will take this message tonight as a guideline to where we have to go," he said.

Vale Inco Sudbury spokesman Steve Ball said the company was disappointed but not surprised with the results.

"USW leadership encouraged their members to vote no and to prolong a strike that has gone on far too long already," said Ball in a written statement.

"Where we go from here is uncertain. The USW's current position offers little hope that the strike can be settled any time soon," he wrote.

 


The following open letter to the community from the United Steelworkers was published in today's Sudbury Star.

By John Fera, President, Steelworkers Local 6500 and Rick Bertrand, Vice-President, Steelworkers Local 6500

Sudbury Star

11 March 2010 

After refusing to negotiate for eight months, Vale Inco recently accepted a proposal from the United Steelworkers' to hold exploratory discussions with the assistance of a mediator. But it threw away the opportunity to use those talks, as well as an extraordinary offer from the Steelworkers, to resolve the strike it provoked.

During the talks, conducted from late February though March 7, the United Steelworkers offered numerous new proposals and repeatedly sought common ground on key issues. The union's exceptional willingness to pursue mutual compromises clearly formed the basis for a settlement and the end of this strike.

However, fair and meaningful bargaining requires good faith from both sides, and, unfortunately, Vale failed to reciprocate.

Rather than respond in kind to the union's goodwill, the Brazilian-owned and managed multinational offered only minimal changes on minor issues. Mostly, Vale continued to demand complete capitulation to its rigid demands that would hurt Sudbury working families, trigger job losses throughout our local economy and damage our community's future.

Just as the mediator called off the exploratory discussions, Vale threw at the union as a fait accompli what it called an "offer for settlement." Before union negotiators could even read the massive document, Vale posted on its website an incomplete, slanted version of its "offer." Vale's propaganda failed to reflect its refusal to seek genuine compromises to reach agreement and end the strike. It's version of reality neglects the destructive ramifications its demands would have for working families and our community.

Despite Vale's refusal to join in the union's spirit of compromise, the Steelworkers made another unprecedented attempt to reach a settlement.

The union proposed that all outstanding issues be referred to binding arbitration. We also offered to end the strike during arbitration. Because this dispute presents unique circumstances, the union went to extraordinary lengths and broke with its tradition of spurning binding arbitration.

The Steelworkers hoped for a positive response from Vale because in Brazil, labour disputes often are resolved through a binding, arbitrated settlement.

Yet here in Canada, Vale thumbed its nose at the proposal for binding arbitration, coldly rejecting a clear path to a fair settlement and an immediate end to the strike.

Vale's behaviour is so insidious that it has even raised the ire of respected American corporate executive Leo Hindery Jr., a leading advocate for corporate responsibility.

"Almost nothing in labour relations is more vile than ‘conditioned bargaining,' yet Vale has made this approach the base of its demands," Hindery wrote in a recent column.

"We are seeing firsthand Vale's insensitivity to its workers and their communities, as it tries to run away from fair wages and benefits that are the product of longtime collective bargaining," he said.

Today and tomorrow , striking Steelworkers in Greater Sudbury and Port Colborne will vote on Vale's disingenuous and substandard "offer of settlement." Afterward, the union will publicly discuss details of this "offer." It should be clear, however, that Vale's approach to bargaining in Canada stands in stark contrast with that of nickel miner Xstrata, which arranged for local management to settle a new contract without inciting a labour dispute.

We hope we've explained why the United Steelworkers bargaining committee has unanimously recommended that our members reject Vale's "offer."

For eight months now, 3,000 Steelworkers and their families and untold others in our communities have endured the pain of a strike caused by the Brazilian multinational Vale Inco.

It is Vale's refusal to bargain in good faith that dictates we must continue this struggle, one that has only succeeded so far because of the aid of our supportive communities.

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