MONTREAL — Over 2,400 United Steelworkers union members went on strike against Vale in Sudbury, Ontario, June 1. Brazil-based Vale is a major producer of nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, gold and silver. The company bought the former Inco mines in 2006.
USW Local 6500 members work in several mines, a mill and a smelter in one of the largest integrated mining complexes in the world. The workers rejected a concession contract by 70% May 31 that the union bargaining committee had recommended.
A central issue for the strikers is the bosses’ attempt to abolish health benefits after retirement for new hires. “We figure that with all the stuff we are dealing with here at the smelter, all of the carcinogen substances, that we deserve to have our benefits after retirement,” striker Yan Ouellet told CTV News on the picket line June 10. “That’s probably when we are gonna use it most.”
A new set of concessionary demands by Vale was voted down by 87% on June. 14. The union bargaining committee urged workers to vote against, because the new proposal still eliminates retiree health and medical benefits for new hires. “Vale knows it provoked this strike by demanding concessions, yet it continues to attack health benefits,” said Local President Nick Larochelle in a USW news release.
Vale bosses are offering only a 4% pay raise over five years, as well as two bonuses — 2,500 Canadian dollars ($2,060) for working during the COVID pandemic and a CA$3,500 signing bonus. Striker Vince Patterson told the Sudbury Star the bonuses were “insulting hush money.”
Another key issue is safety. “Don’t ask me to work unsafe while you look the other way because your infrastructure is outdated and you won’t spend the money or shut down the process to correct the hazard,” Patterson said.
The last strike against Vale lasted a whole year during 2009-2010. The bosses then tried to run the mine with strikebreakers. There was a solidarity march of 5,000 workers and supporters in Sudbury March 22, 2010. During five days in May hundreds blocked two entrances to a mine and mill where strikebreakers were working. While the workers pushed back some concessions, the final contract was similar to the one the workers had voted down at the beginning.
Messages of support and contributions can be sent to USW Local 6500, 66 Brady St., Sudbury, ON, P3E 1C8. Email: email@example.com.