Nfld. & Labrador

Steelworkers holding strike vote after talks sour with IOC in Labrador

Around 1,400 steelworkers are deciding whether or not they want a strike, as the president of the union says the Iron Ore Company of Canada is asking for too much.

The strike vote will wrap up Tuesday afternoon

About 1,400 ironworkers will decide on Tuesday if they want to head for the picket line. (CBC)

Around 1,400 steelworkers in Labrador City will be deciding Tuesday on whether or not they want a strike.

A strike vote started on Monday and will continue into Tuesday afternoon, as the union leader says the Iron Ore Company of Canada is asking for concessions they don't agree with.

Ron Thomas, president of Local 5795, said his colleagues are being asked to accept a two-tiered pension system, as well as changes to sick leave and later retirement.

"It's unfortunate that the company is coming after our benefits now when we could be working on a fair contract, and going back to work and start producing," Thomas said.

Pension, sick leave at the heart of issues

Thomas also believes it's unfortunate the company wants to make concessions at a time when the value of iron ore is high.

The two sides have been negotiating since December, and Thomas said they cannot reach an agreement.

According to the union, the company has asked that any employee who incurs sick time be denied a higher rate of pay for overtime until they have worked off the hours they missed.

Thomas said the company also wants to introduce a second tier of pensions for new employees, which would result in them getting about one-third of the value of a current pension.

CBC News has requested to speak with a spokesperson for the Iron Ore Company of Canada, but has yet to hear back.

Ron Thomas says the union is angry with the company over some proposed concessions in bargaining talks. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We're not asking for the world. We just want our fair share," Thomas said. "This company is making big profits. Not too long ago they talked about some production records that were being broken."

When asked what the mood was among workers, Thomas said it seems likely they will strike.

"A lot of our members are extremely disappointed with the company. They're angry," he said. 

"It's just not right. At a time when we should be working together to improve production, improve our benefits and to keep everything going smooth, this company comes out and decides to take things away."

Looming tariffs

The strike vote comes as the threat of steel tariffs imposed by the U.S. government looms over the sector.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would impose a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports, in an effort to give U.S. manufacturers a boost.

Trump suggested that Canada might get an exemption if it agrees to a new NAFTA deal with the U.S.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball is accusing the U.S. government of 'putting barriers for people to invest.' (CBC)

Premier Dwight Ball addressed questions about the tariffs during question period in the House of Assembly Monday, saying that with these tariffs, the U.S. government was "not just literally building a wall, they're actually putting barriers for people to invest."

He said the tariffs "could have a negative impact" on iron ore production in Labrador.

"But, I will tell you, based on the conversations that I [had] … Canada and all provinces are prepared to put in retaliatory measures, if required, to make sure that trade relationship [with the U.S.] stays strong."

With files from Here and Now