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Talks break off between Vale and USW at Voisey’s Bay

Talks between the Steelworkers Union at Voisey's Bay and Vale have broken off. The union says that if an agreement isn't reached soon there could be a strike. - COURTESY OF VALE
Talks between the Steelworkers Union at Voisey's Bay and Vale have broken off. The union says that if an agreement isn't reached soon there could be a strike. - COURTESY OF VALE

Union says if no agreement is reached soon there could be a strike

NAIN, N.L. —

Negotiations between the United Steel Workers union and Vale over a new collective bargaining agreement for Voisey’s Bay operations have been going nowhere and, according to a USW spokesman, it could lead to a strike this summer.

“We’re waiting on the (provincial) conciliation officer to decide whether or not he’s going to write his report… then 15 days after the report is received by the Minister, we’d be in a position to take a legal strike vote,” said Boyd Bussey, a staff representative for USW.

“Nobody wants to strike… these issues that are outstanding doesn’t seem to be issues that should cause a strike.”

According to Bussey, it’s possible, if no agreement is reached soon, for USW workers at Voisey’s Bay to be on strike by early July.

Vale and USW Local 9508, which represents 250 Voisey’s Bay workers, have been negotiating on a new agreement since February, but the two sides, according to Bussey, have agreed on pretty much nothing. 

“All (Vale) is doing is what I call ‘surface bargaining’, they’re not addressing any of the main issues,” said Bussey. “To this date, all they’ve agreed to is that the union can put up a bulletin board in the new facility.”

Vale declined to be interviewed about negotiations, saying they’d rather not use the media to talk about the collective bargaining process.

“We prefer to speak directly to the union about these issues as opposed to through the media, which is why we are very keen to get back to the table and work with them to reach a new agreement,” the spokesperson said in a written statement

In a USW press release, the union says talks between the two sides “broke off” on May 15, despite a provincial conciliation officer trying to bring Vale and the union together.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Vale said they were disappointed the union “walked away” from negotiations.

The union says there are many issues on the table they want resolved before they even start negotiating the monetary side of a new agreement.

“The company wanted us to…give them a list of our monetary issues, while all these other issues are still outstanding,” said Bussey. “And the union wants to try and get these (other) issues resolved before we move on to monetary problems.”

One of the most important issues is the union’s safety concerns. With the two new underground mines at Voisey’s Bay, the USW believes there are safety hazards that have gone unaddressed.

“Vale refuses to recognize the safety concerns that we have.”

According to Bussey, the union has asked the provincial government to send a mine inspector into Voisey’s Bay, but they have yet to receive a response from the inspector.

In another written statement, the spokesperson for Vale defended the company’s safety record in Voisey’s Bay.

“Vale refuses to recognize the safety concerns that we have.” — Boyd Bussey

“As we continue to transition to underground mining at Voisey’s Bay, safety will always be our primary focus,” reads the statement. “Voisey’s Bay has a very impressive safety record and is recognized as one of the safest mines in Canada, as evidenced by the recent Ryan Award we received for the fifth consecutive year."

USW also wants to see a “progressive discipline” system installed into the new agreement. Right now, says Bussey, Vale controls their own disciplinary policy and the union isn’t satisfied with how it’s used.

The union wants to see a system where workers are given a verbal and written warning for their infractions before being suspended from work.

Other issues for USW involve sick leave benefits and bonus pay formula, among others.


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