UPDATED — Aug. 4, 11:33 p.m.
One of the nine workers fired by Vale during the recent labour dispute with Steelworkers Local 6500 has been tapped as vice-president of the union.
Patrick Veinot already has a history of leadership with the union. He was the chief steward of maintenance and electrical from 2001-2006 and the vice-president of the union from 2006-2009.
He ran against John Fera for the president's position during union elections last year, and lost by a small margin.
When Fera's Aug. 1 retirement from both the union and Vale came into effect, Rick Bertrand, the vice-president of the union, automatically became the president.
The union's executive board voted to have Veinot fill the position of vice-president.
“I'm anxious to get back at what I do,” Veinot said. “This is what I do. This is my calling. I'm really excited about that. Of course, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB)(decision) hangs over my head. It's one step at a time.”
He and seven of the other fired workers are currently waiting for a ruling from the OLRB. One of the fired workers was able to retire from Vale with a pension.
The union is asking that the labour relations board allow a provincial arbitrator to make the decision about whether or not the fired workers should be taken back by Vale.
Both parties presented their case at a July 13 hearing, but the labour board has not yet rendered a decision.
Veinot said he would not be able to continue in his role if the OLRB rules he is not entitled to arbitration, or an arbitrator rules against giving his job back.
In the meantime, he said he's able to function as vice-president of Local 6500 because he is a union member in good standing.
He said the fact that he's currently unable to go onto company property isn't a problem because “there's nothing in the (collective bargaining agreement) that requires the vice-president or the president (of the union) to be on the (company's) property.”
Bertrand was not available to comment on this story, as he is currently on holiday.
Veinot and two other fired workers are facing criminal charges related to an alleged incident involving an encounter with a person who they thought was a replacement worker. Veinot was charged with criminal harassment in the matter.
One of the other suspects in the case was also charged with criminal harassment, and a third suspect was charged with both assault and criminal harassment.
He said the case was originally supposed to be heard later this month, but the court date has been moved to December because they decided to switch lawyers.
Veinot said he's looking forward to helping his members deal with the “terrible” circumstances they are in as they return to work after the nearly year-long labour dispute.
“The mines are in poor shape and the equipment is in poor shape,” he said. “It's been a year that people haven't worked. There's a lot of different stresses. The company is still disciplining people for things they did on the picket line. The union has its hands full right now, dealing with Vale.”
Veinot said he, along with all members of Local 6500, learned a lot during the strike.
“We learned it the hard way, unfortunately,” he said. “We're dealing with a different animal. We're dealing with a large, global, multinational company that has a different ideology. They are aggressively trying to change Canadian work culture, if you will, for the worse.”