Its workers may be picketing outside the gates, but for Falconbridge, it's business as usual. The nickel producer has hired replacement workers to cross picket lines and keep things running.

Replacement truck drivers were busy hauling sulphuric acid from the plant Thursday, according to company spokesperson Craig Crosby, while unionized truckers refused to cross the picket line in support of 1,260 striking mine workers.

The company hired Accu-fax, a firm specializing in labour disputes, to provide replacement workers for security, truck transportation, crane operation and other tasks, Crosby said.

The company's mining, milling and smelting operations have shut down, while about 460 employees, administrative, office and technical workers, remain on the job.

Safety concerns

But a union official said replacement workers aren't handling the material safely.

Norm Chammas, health and safety chair for Mine Mill Canadian Auto Workers Local 598, said drivers who regularly drive the trucks full of acid, are constantly updating their training to ensure equipment is operating properly.

Chammas said one acid truck drove away from the site Thursday with an open valve.

He said he wants the Ministry of Labour to inspect the plant and make sure everything is in order where the 20 replacement workers are working.

Contract talks faltered

Negotiations are bogged down in a fight over sinking profits. Nickel prices have tumbled recently, and the company wants to cut costs while the union wants to secure better pensions and protect salaried jobs, said Laurentian University Economics Prof. Jean-Charles Cachon.

But Crosby said changes to the collective agreement are what angered union representatives when the contract was tabled Monday. Talks may resume sometime next week.