Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador West layoffs 'like a bad dream' for young couple

Not long ago, Shelley and Jeremy Pittman thought their employment and financial worries were over. But their dream of building a life in Labrador West is now in tatters. Both have been laid off by IOC.
Jeremy and Shelley Pittman are pictured at home in Wabush, Labrador. They both have received layoff notices from their jobs at the IOC mine in Labrador City, and face and uncertain future. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Shelley and Jeremy Pittman arrived in Labrador West just over three years ago, feeling excited and hopeful, believing their futures were on the right trajectory.

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They had both landed jobs good-paying jobs at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City, and were offered assurances that the rich iron ore deposit beneath the ground would provide them a livelihood for the next 30 years.

They purchased a half-million-dollar house in neighbouring Wabush, and made plans to start a family.

"I was like, man, this is like the best opportunity in the world. We don't have to worry about work anymore," Shelley said while reflecting on those early days in Labrador.

What they didn't count on, however, was a crash in the commodities market, with the prices for iron ore dropping below US $50 per tonne prior to a recent rally.

Shelley and Jeremy Pittman thought they had a great future in western Labrador, until they learned earlier this month their jobs at IOC are about to disappear. 5:02

Earlier this month, the unthinkable happened.

They both received layoff notices, sending their lives into a tailspin.

"We were shocked. We're still shocked," Shelley said.

Hoping for a better future

They are among 150 IOC workers represented by Local 5795 of the United Steelworkers who will lose their jobs in mid-June.

It's a devastating blow for the union local, which represents about 1,400 workers, but it's stories like Shelley's and Jeremy's that reveal the true impact.

The sprawling mine in Labrador City is operated by the Iron Ore Company of Canada, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto. Earlier this month, the company announced it was laying off 150 union workers because of slumping commodity prices. (CBC)

Their story begins in Bird Cove, a tiny fishing community of less than 200 souls on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.

Jeremy was fishing with his father and uncles, making very little money.

Shelley suggested they make their way out to western Canada for jobs in the oil industry, with the hope of one day returning to their home province,.

After five years out west, their plan seemed to have worked.

IOC came calling with good jobs for both in the Big Land.

From bonanza to bust

They arrived on Jan. 28, 2012, and immediately felt a connection with Wabush, thinking this was where they would settle.

The mines in Labrador City, Wabush and across the border of Bloom Lake were in full swing, and there was a "sky's the limit" attitude in the air.

The housing market was booming at the time, and they didn't blink at the thought of paying $500,000 for the house of their dreams.

"The two of us were working, so we could afford it," Shelley said.

But Lab West is a different place these days. The bonanza is over, and the sky's the limit attitude is long gone. There's uncertainty around every corner, and there's pain and torment in many of the faces.

Wabush Mines closed last year, and so did Bloom Lake. IOC has been scaling back as well in a bid to remain viable.

Personal and professional setbacks

For Shelley and Jeremy, the first sign of trouble came six months ago. Their hopes of starting a family took a painful turn when Shelley had a miscarriage.

Then earlier this month, layoff notices starting showing up in mailboxes.

The Pittmans received two of them.

It's just not fair. I know a lot of people got it a lot worse than us around the world, and I feel bad for everybody. It just seems like when one thing happens, everything happens. One thing breaks, everything breaks. You can't get ahead, for some reason.- Shelley Pittman

"I'm so shocked that it's just like someone dying. You don't want to believe it because you've worked so hard for it," she said.

It's a time of loss — a baby, their jobs, and perhaps, soon, their house.

"It's just not fair. I know a lot of people got it a lot worse than us around the world, and I feel bad for everybody. It just seems like when one thing happens, everything happens. One thing breaks, everything breaks. You can't get ahead, for some reason."

During a recent shift at work, Shelley couldn't help but reflect as she manoeuvred her massive haul truck around the mine.

"I'm thinking, I'm not going to be here in a few weeks. It thought I would be here for 30 years.

"It's just like a bad dream."

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