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'Stop wasting our time. Start listening to us,' says Local 6500 union president to Vale

Unionized workers say they want to get back to work with a more realistic contract offer
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USWA president Nick Larochelle, left, and USW bargaining committee member Myles Sullivan spoke at a news conference in Sudbury on Tuesday to explain why the union is not pleased with the latest contract offer from Vale.

Executives of United Steelworkers Local 6500 in Sudbury said they are disappointed and frustrated that Vale is not listening to their concerns over the status of retirement benefits for newly hired workers. 

They were speaking out at a news conference held at USW hall Tuesday morning, one day after the unionized workers rejected a new company offer in a bid to resolve the strike that began June 1 in Sudbury. 

So far, the union has rejected the company offer mainly because the company continues to press for concessions the union said will weaken health benefits for existing workers and eliminate the retiree health and medical benefit for future hires.

Local 6500 president Nick Larochelle said Vale's latest offer, presented earlier this week, was rejected by the membership. Larochelle said the company is not listening to its workers.

"On May 31st, our membership turned down a tentative agreement with 70 per cent rejection. On June 14, the company came back with an offer of settlement. We brought it to the membership for them to review and make a decision on it. That result came back 87 per cent rejection," said Larochelle.

"We told them we know what the membership wants. We went to the picket lines every single day. We talked to our members and we brought their proposals to the table," he said. 

"The company refused to listen. The company doesn't listen to me. The company hasn't listened to the bargaining committee. The company hasn't listened to Kevin Boyd (Local 6500 vice-president) and the chief stewards. The company hasn't listened to Malcolm Mills and the worker health and safety reps," Larochelle continued. 

He said it's time for Vale to return to the table.

"They've tested the membership. And the membership has spoken loud and clear, with an 87-per-cent rejection of this offer. So we would like the company to listen to us and get back to the table and start working on a contract," said Larochelle.   

His position was endorsed by Myles Sullivan of Sudbury, the assistant to the USW District Six director Marty Warren. Sullivan said he was brought into the bargaining last week in an effort to get Vale to be more receptive to the concerns of the members. 

"I can tell you as I sit here today I am very frustrated and disappointed that they brought back a sub-par offer again to us, that goes back to our benefits and benefits of future hires," said Sullivan.

"You know our members. We work in the community. We live in the community. We retire in the community. We support the community," said Sullivan. 

“Our fathers and grandfathers and relatives and neighbours have worked in the mining operations in the Sudbury basin for generations, and they enjoy retirement benefits when they retire.

“After giving your working life to a company, you need retirement benefits more than ever. Not a $1,000 health-spending account that in 30 years from now will be less than $300, in today's terms.”

Sullivan said it is not something the workers could survive on.

"You know, as disappointed as I am, I am overwhelmed by the solidarity and the support on the picket line, the message that our members gave, the backing and the stand they're taking in doing the right thing for what was handed to them from previous workers that went through this and got us the collective agreements and benefits that we enjoy today," said Sullivan. "I want to be clear. We don't want to be on strike. We want to be back at work."

"Stop wasting our time. Start listening to us. Get us back to the table" said Larochelle.

Responding to questions from the media, Larochelle explained the seeming disconnect between the contract offer first recommended by the union bargaining committee back on May 31; the same offer that was soundly rejected by the membership.

"So what happens at the bargaining table, the company starts at one level and they bring it up to another level. And when we disagreed with where we got to, the choice had to be made because we were at the deadline, to bring an offer to the membership. So to do that we chose to endorse the offer and have the membership have a look at it, and let them decide," Larochelle said. 

He said the offer was a 70-per-cent rejection.

"And since that day, we have been back to the table, telling the company what we want, and they have not listened," said Larochelle.