The United Steelworkers Union Local 6500 is working fast to try to do whatever they can to help 480 members working at Vale's Coleman Mine in Sudbury that have been temporarily laid off after operations were suspended due to safety concerns.
Rick Bertrand, president of the United Steel Workers Local 6500, said this sudden shutdown has been a major disruption, as the number of workers affected represents 20 per cent of the union's membership and the union has been working non-stop ever since to help those members.
“We are very disappointed to have a 30-day shutdown this close to Christmas,” he said. “Our members have families, many have been in here worried about their future.”
He said employees have been receiving calls as early as the morning of Nov. 14 notifying them of the suspension.
While some members can collect unemployment insurance, he said they are working with Vale to get some members moved to other operations in the meantime.
However, due to the sheer number of people affected, he said there won't be work for everybody.
He explained he had been told an engineer from Vale went into the shaft on Nov. 10 and reported there needed to be work done, leading the company to suspend operations and will be sending temporary layoff notices to all employees affected.
On that same day, Vale announced it is suspending operations at the mine due to safety concerns in the ventilation shaft, according to a statement from Angie Robson, manager of Corporate & Aboriginal Affairs for Vale’s Ontario operations.
“As part of an ongoing maintenance review, a decision has been made to expedite some necessary repairs to the shaft’s ventilation compartment at Coleman Mine, which has resulted in operations at Coleman Mine being suspended,” she stated. “Impacted employees have been notified that their shifts are canceled until further notice.”
She added that the safety of the workers is the top priority of the company.
"We know this is disruptive to our people at Coleman and their families," said Robson, in a Nov. 14 statement.
"However, safety is at the core of this decision and our core value of HomeSafe has to come first."
While he could not say for sure what the problem was, Bertrand said employees shouldn't have to bear the brunt of a company decision.
“Since the shaft has been neglected for this long, they should not be paying the price,” he said.
He said the union is filing a grievance on behalf of the membership over an article Vale is using to justify the short notice. Bertrand says the company should have used another article that allowed for 45 days notice.
This is not the first time the Levack mine has had safety issues. Stephen Perry, 47, was killed Jan. 29, 2012 after a 14-tonne rock fell from the face of a drift where he was loading explosives at the 4,215 level, hitting him in the face and chest.
An inquest into his death in 2016 ruled it was accidental. A jury made 10 recommendations at the time, including requiring ground control engineers assess support at every rock face in a mine, to amending Ministry of Labour regulations around miners working alone.
Also in 2016, a scoop tram caught fire in the early morning hours of March 9. There were no injuries.
In September of 2016, a work stoppage was ordered after the smell of smoke was detected by workers. A mine rescue team was dispatched and no fire was found.