On the Picket Line

Canada nickel strikers defeat Vale takeback drive

By Katy LeRougetel
and John Steele
August 30, 2021

Some 2,400 striking nickel miners, and mill and smelter workers returned to work at Vale International S.A. in Sudbury, Ontario, Aug. 9 after pushing back the bosses’ attempt to eliminate retiree health benefits for new hires. Under the slogan “Local 6500 standing up for future generations,” the strikers had won wide support from working people in the mine basin region.

United Steelworkers Local 6500 members went on strike June 1 after rejecting an agreement recommended by their negotiating committee. They turned down a second contract proposal by Vale bosses during the strike. On Aug. 3 they voted up by an 85% majority a third offer that had the unanimous backing of their union leadership.

During the five-year contract, workers will receive a 6% wage increase and cost-of-living adjustments, plus $2,500 pandemic and $3,500 signing bonuses. Some health care costs will go up.

“We do believe the union did extremely well in bargaining a contract that protects the workers as far as retiree benefits,” Tammy Lanktree, who helped organize community support for the strike, told the Militant Aug. 7. Lanktree’s companion was one of the workers on strike.

“The minimal raise is better than nothing. For a company that pays out great amounts to its shareholders, the raise to their hard-working employees didn’t reflect that,” she said.

During a solidarity visit to picket lines last month, both young and older workers told Militant correspondents that maintaining retiree health benefits for new hires had became the central issue of the strike — and key to preventing the company from creating divisions in the union. Many of the workers have long-term health problems because of the rock dust in the nickel mines and chemicals used in the refining process.

Vale bosses insisted they needed major concessions because of increasing international competition. But the company reported income up 600% during the second quarter this year compared to the same period in 2020. Vale, based in Brazil, is one of the largest mining companies in the world.