Nfld. & Labrador

'Tough decision,' union president says of IOC workers' vote in favour of temporary workers

Unionized workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City voted in favour of a temporary workforce, the union says.

Local union president Ron Thomas says 53% of workers voted yes

Workers voted 53 per cent in favour of accepting temporary workers at the IOC mine in Labrador West, says Ron Thomas. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

It was a "very close" vote on a difficult decision, but at the request of the union executive workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City voted in favour of a temporary workforce, the union says.

United Steelworkers Union local president Ron Thomas told CBC News the workers voted 53 per cent in favour of the agreement Thursday night.

"I believe that sends a strong message to the company," Thomas said.

"It was a really tough decision to make, but we got a lot of work ahead of us to fix the problems that we've had over the past three years," Thomas told Labrador Morning Friday. 

There are 88 temporary workers currently on the site as part of a six-month experiment that union members approved last year during a vote.

At the time, 60 per cent of workers voted in favour of the experiment.

'They figured that's the only way they can keep the business afloat."- Ron Thomas

The temporary workers were initially brought on to alleviate fatigue, and to help fill shifts that some employees said they were being forced to work. Thomas said they will continue to do that. 

"We would love to have full-time hires like we did in the past. But [the company] was just adamant on having temporary workers and they figured that's the only way they can keep the business afloat."

62 new full-time hires promised

Thomas said they voted in favour because the company committed to hire 62 new full-time members, there is a cap on the number of temporary workers onsite and it's only for a year. 

Temporary workers at IOC will help with short absenteeism and long hours of overtime, the union says. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He said IOC is short staffed, so temporary workers help alleviate that problem. 

"We'll use our overtime, and if our members do not want to work the overtime, instead of them being forced to work, we're going to utilize the temporary workers," he said. 

The new full-time staff will be scattered across the project, said Thomas. 

"It will help, it'll definitely help. But over the last couple of years we've had over 200 of our members leave the organization. So we need a lot more bodies than that," Thomas said. 

"We're hoping things are going to improve, we've got a year now until our contract is up."

Thomas said the vote on temporary workers was so close because members are still upset about how they've been treated over the past three years, before a new CEO took over. 

"There's a big fear out there that there'll be no more full-time hires."