Nfld. & Labrador

Union leader says no regrets about rejecting IOC cost-cutting proposals

The president of the union local that represents about 1,400 workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City says he does not have any regrets about rejecting previous cost-cutting measures proposed by the company.
Ron Thomas is a union local president with the United Steelworkers that represents workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City. (CBC)

The president of the union local that represents about 1,400 workers at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City says he does not have any regrets about rejecting previous cost-cutting measures proposed by the company.

IOC announced Thursday that it was cutting 150 full-time jobs in mid-June, in an attempt to remain viable in the face of low prices for iron ore.

The cuts are a major blow to the area's one-industry economy, which is still reeling from the closure last year of nearby Wabush Mines, and the idling of another mine across the Quebec border in Bloom Lake.

In a bid to reign in costs, IOC proposed a wage freeze in February, but workers overwhelming rejected the idea.

Offers of early retirement incentives were also largely ignored by workers.

Ron Thomas, president of Local 5795 of the United Steelworkers, said "absolutely not" when asked if there were any regrets about spurning the wage freeze proposal.

He said the company would not offer any guarantees against layoffs if the workers did accept the proposals, or set a "trigger point" for the price of ore at which layoffs would be unavoidable.

"With no guarantees, we couldn't accept reducing our wage by four per cent," Thomas said.

Workers 'devastated' by layoffs

During a meeting this week with senior IOC executives, Thomas said he identified a variety of ways the company could save money without laying off workers, including reducing the dependence on contractors.

At the conclusion of the meeting, he said he was handed a letter from the company, advising of the layoffs.

The layoffs impact 118 operators/maintainers and three carpenters, along with every janitor at the site, some of whom have nearly 30 years of seniority.

"They're absolutely devastated," Thomas said.

Thomas could not explained why janitors — the lowest paid job classification at the mine — were so heavily targeted by the cuts, and wonders how the company plans to keep places such as lunchrooms and bathrooms clean.

When they're holding all the cards, they could shut it down tomorrow. But I don't think that's what they're going to do because they're still making money at this site.- Ron Thomas

He said the company is not permitted to eliminate union jobs in order to bring in contractors, and said "I'll be taking this on pretty heavily."

Thomas hopes to convince the company to cancel the layoffs, and will bring his pitch to the shareholders of IOC at an upcoming meeting.

"I can tell this company where they can save money without reducing manpower," said Thomas.

As for the future of IOC in Labrador West, Thomas believes there is still a future.

"When they're holding all the cards, they could shut it down tomorrow. But I don't think that's what they're going to do because they're still making money at this site."

With files from Matt McCann

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