Standing with a group of strikers eating ice cream on the Copper Cliff smelter picket line in the sweltering July sun, Chris True shared his worries about what things might be like when he returns to work after the nearly year-long strike against Vale.
“If we’re going back to a hostile work environment, and (if) my foreman is under strict instructions to fire people, it’s going to be a very difficult environment to work in,” he said. “It’s very difficult to be productive when you have to watch your back all the time.”
True and other members of Steelworkers Local 6500 will vote on a tentative deal with Vale this week.
Membership meetings and ratification votes started yesterday at the T.M. Davies Arena in Lively, and will continue today. A membership meeting will also take place today at 11 a.m., and voting will take place between 12 and 6 p.m.
Members of Steelworkers Local 6200, which represents Vale workers in Port Colborne, Ont., will also vote on the contract today. Local 6200 bargains along with Local 6500.
Check NorthernLife.ca for the results of the votes as they become available.
True, who helps to run the furnaces at the Copper Cliff smelter, said he’s fairly sure both Vale and the union made some concessions to come up with the tentative deal.
He said he’ll vote for the contract if it maintains job security.
Not far away, on the Copper Cliff South Mine picket line, another group of strikers take refuge from the sun under a makeshift shelter.
None of the strikers agreed to speak to Northern Life if their names were used, but two gave interviews under the condition of anonymity.
One striker, who said he’d been working at the Copper Cliff Smelter for a year and a half, said he has two children under the age of three, and another one due in October.
He said he was lucky enough to go on parental leave for the first part of the strike, and has found some work over the last few months. But that doesn’t mean things have been easy for his family.
“My VISA is maxed out, and my line of credit is maxed out,” he said. “It’s not good.”
He said he thinks the contract will probably be ratified. However, like True, he said he’s worried about what will happen when they go back to work.
“It depends on if they’re going to lay off, or what they’re going to do,” he said. “I’m about 150 from the bottom. We’ll see what they do after.”
Another striker at the Copper Cliff South Mine picket line, who normally works as an operator at the Copper Cliff Smelter, said he’s been working for the company for 27 years.
He said the strike hasn’t been as hard on him as it has been for some of his co-workers because he’s divorced, and only has himself to look after.
“I lost all my savings though,” he said. “That part is the worst part. I also lost a year of seniority. I don’t think we’re going to get that back.”
He said he hasn’t heard much about what’s in the tentative deal, and is waiting to hear from his union leaders at the meetings. He said he thinks the contract will be ratified, with at least 70 per cent of members voting in favour of the deal.
When asked if he thinks the union had to compromise on some issues, he said “I would imagine. I think they had to.”