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‘All we want is a fair contract, and this isn’t fair,’ says striking Vale employee

United Steelworkers Local 6500 and Vale continue negotiations after workers reject deal
United Steelworkers Local 6500 members on the picket line at the entrance to Clarabelle Mill on Tuesday, June 1.

As United Steelworkers Local 6500 and Vale continue to negotiate a new contract after members voted unanimously May 31 to turn down tentative agreement, union members are on the picket lines hoping they won’t face a year-long strike like they did in 2009-2010.

At Vale’s Coleman mine site, more than two dozen union members set up a roadblock into the site, however, they eventually allowed vehicles through, but not before stopping drivers and informing them of why they were there.

It was a calm setting, as workers talked among themselves, awaiting any word from the union’s negotiating team on any progress made at the table.

Picket lines are set up at all of Vale’s Sudbury operations. United Steelworkers Local 6500 represents 2,600 workers at the mine. The union said 70 per cent of those who voted, voted against the offer from Vale, even though it was recommended by the union’s negotiating team.

At the entrance to Clarabelle Mill, another dozen workers were holding signs as vehicles honked their support as they passed by.

Mark Lambovitch has been an employee for almost 20 years, first at Inco and now at Vale. He was among the workers who were on strike during the year-long labour dispute that lasted from July 13, 2009 to July 8, 2010. 

“I don’t want to do that again, and I’m sure no one does, but we have to stand up for ourselves, otherwise, we will just keep losing,” he said. “This company makes billions of dollars, and they just can’t give us a fair deal? If you come underground, do the work we do and see the conditions, we’re not being greedy.”

He said the proposed wage increase amounted to about $1.35 an hour by the end of the five-year contract.

“That just doesn’t cut it,” he said. “They say Vale is about family and its people, then show it. If you’re going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.”

Lambovitch said he wants to work one more year before he retires.

“All we want is a fair contract, and this isn’t fair,” said Lambovitch. “We’re hopeful for something better. No one wants to be on strike. At the end of the day, what we get in our contract benefits the community, because we just put it back into the local economy.”

Mike Beauparlant has been working with the company for 47 years, he said. He said he didn’t have much time to look over the contract, “but right away I thought it wasn’t great, and I rejected it right away.”

He agreed no one wants to be standing on a picket line.

“We have to do what we have to do,” he said. “We need to stick together and let’s get a fair deal and get back to work.”


Arron Pickard

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