Sudbury MPP Jamie West knows the stress of walking a picket line while on strike. West walked picket lines in 2003, 2009 and 2010. He also knows there’s a boost in morale when people visit the picket lines to show their support for the workers.
That’s what he did on Friday, alongside Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas and retired United Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard. They paid a visit to the picket line set up at the Copper Cliff smelter and then they travelled to Coleman Mine to talk with striking workers there.
United Steelworkers Local 6500 has been on strike since Monday after members voted unanimously against the tentative agreement reached by the union’s bargaining committee and the company.
With an 87 per cent voter turnout for that vote, 70 per cent of members voted to reject the deal.
Steelworkers Local 6500 represents about 2,450 production and maintenance employees at Vale’s Sudbury operations.
“The best thing for the city is labour peace,” said West. “No one votes to go on strike unless they think the contract is unfair.”
The tentative deal presented to United Steelworkers Local 6500 members on May 31 wasn’t necessarily a bad one, he said, “but this is a union that had to accept concessions in 2009. That year-long strike was to protect pensions for new hires, while the strike in 2003 was to protect benefits for pensioners. This strike is about having a new set of benefits for new hires."
Vale workers have good contracts and good jobs that really contribute to the economy, West said.
The future is bright for the mining industry, and if Vale expects concessions in the good times, there will be forced concessions in bad times, West said.
“I’m proud of these workers for standing up for the future generation of miners,” said West. “It’s a tough decision to make to take the stand for the next generation.”
Gerard said even though he’s retired now, he still has a very good relationship with the membership, and he visited the picket line to show the international union’s commitment to Local 6500.
“Vale has had one of their most profitable quarters in their history in Sudbury, yet they are trying to deny workers their pensions and benefits, not only now, but also in the future,” said Gerard.
Gerard said most of the workers on strike are second or third generation miners, and their fathers and grandfathers fought hard for what they have.
“Now Vale would like to take them away from future retirees. I’m proud of the local unit for not doing that and standing up strong. Vale should have known better that these workers would not give up their pensions and benefits for now or in the future.”
Contract negotiations continued Friday between Vale and the bargaining committee.
“I think we have a really skilled bargaining committee with a lot of experience, and a solid membership that knows what the issues are,” said Gerard. “I’m just here to support them and to really congratulate them for the strong stand they took.
“People need to know what happens here has an impact on the community. These workers buy their trucks, cars and boats here to live the quality of life they want, and they aren’t prepared to give that up now.”
West said if the NDP was in power, the first thing they would do is bring back “anti-scab” legislation.
“I don’t think Vale is using anyone outside of the regular workforce right now, but in 2009 and 2010, a lot of the reason that strike dragged on was because of the use of replacement workers,” said West. “When you have legislation that prevents replacement workers, strikes become shorter and that’s better for everyone.”