Sudbury

Striking USW 6500 workers vote down Vale's latest contract offer

More than 2,500 mine, mill and smelter workers in Sudbury who've been on strike for over two weeks have rejected Vale’s latest offer

Company says it's disappointed its 'sincere attempt to address the issues' was turned down

Vale workers represented by USW Local 6500 have been walking a picket line outside of Clarabelle Mill since May 31. (Erik White/CBC )

More than 2,500 striking mine, mill and smelter workers in Sudbury have rejected Vale's latest offer.

On Monday, the members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 reviewed and voted down the second offer. The workers have been on the picket lines since rejecting the first offer on May 31.

The union said that during the second vote, 87 per cent voted against the proposed contract. 

"Vale's employees have said emphatically that they want this employer to stop attacking their benefits, to stop eroding the standard of living for the next generation, to stop taking more and more away from our families and our community, especially during good times," USW Local 6500 president Nick Larochelle said in a statement. 

"This message from our members is clear: 'Back off the concessions, get back to the table and negotiate a deal that puts people before profits — then the profits will flow.'"

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Myles Sullivan, assistant to the director of the USW, said he was frustrated by Vale's "subpar" offer.

"Our members, we work in the community. We live in the community. We retire in the community. We support the community," Sullivan said. "Our fathers and grandfathers and relatives and neighbours have worked in the mining operations in the Sudbury basin for generations, and they enjoy retirement benefits when they retire.

'I'm very frustrated and disappointed that [Vale] brought back a subpar offer ... that goes after our benefits and benefits of future hires,' Myles Sullivan, assistant to the USW director, said following the union's rejection of Vale's latest offer. (Erik White/CBC)

"After giving your working life to a company, you need retirement benefits more than ever, not a $1,000 health spending account that in 30 years from now will be less than $300 in today's terms."

"You cannot survive on that once a year." 

Sullivan said he was questioning why other mining companies operating in the area, like Glencore, were able to reach deals with the USW that did not reduce pensions or benefits.

"Both companies have the same pension and benefit obligations in their collective agreement. They're similar. Comparing apples to apples," he said.

"When we went to the bargaining table with Glencore, they didn't come after our pension. They didn't come after our benefits. They live with those costs.

"Yet in 2009, 2010, Vale came to us and they came after our pensions. Why did they have to do that? And Glencore didn't?"

Vale says offer 'genuine'

In a statement, the company said it is "disappointed" that the "improved offer for settlement was turned down."

"Our offer was genuine and a sincere attempt to address the issues brought forth by the union's bargaining committee in the most recent round of discussions. Clearly, we remain apart on important issues."

The union and company bargaining teams came to an agreement on the first contract, but it was rejected by 70 per cent of workers in a vote on May 31. Union leadership recommended against accepting the second offer. 

The union says the company is doing well financially, noting it paid its shareholders $3.88 billion US in dividends in the first three months of 2021.

"The terms of Vale's concessionary offer were unacceptable given the wealth our members are generating for the company and the bright prospects for the future," Larochelle said in a statement. 

The company says its Ontario operations "are in the midst of a turnaround effort designed to to position the business to attract investment in new sources as existing mines approach the end of their productive life."

"Operations in Sudbury remain idle as the labour dispute continues."

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