BY KEITH LACEY
As long as the almighty dollar and profits are the only considerations, the proposed Inco-Falconbridge merger should be viewed with scepticism, says the leader of Falconbridge's top union.
Rick Grylls, president of Local 598 of the Mine Mill/CAW, said his union will not endorse the proposed mega-merger until certain company and government guarantees are negotiated to ensure the long-term viability of communities like Greater Sudbury.
While not opposed to the merger, the union wants the federal government, Inco's top brass and union bosses to sit down and negotiate a "merger plan" to ensure this communities and its workers will be protected in the future, said Grylls.
For decades, Inco and Falconbridge showed they cared about the communities they did business in by constantly reinvesting and continuing exploration for new ore bodies. But, Grylls says in the "past 15 years, the corporate agenda has changed...it's now all about money and profits.
"Mining principles have been overrun by money principles."
Grylls headed a press conference Wednesday to detail his union's concerns over the proposed merger insisting the Mine Mill/CAW won't endorse the $13-billion cash and stocks deal until long-term commitments are negotiated with Inco management.
Without such guarantees, the new Inco would be ripe for a foreign takeover bid, whereby the new owner would have no concern for this community or thousands of workers here, said Grylls.
"We still don't trust the companies...or their corporate agendas," he said.
The Mine Mill/CAW has produced a booklet detailing their concerns about the proposed merger called Two Sides of the Coin: The Opportunities and Risks of Creating the World's Largest Nickel Producer.
While the short-term opportunities for Sudbury's mining operations are very positive, the long-term viability of this community's natural resources can't be assured until government legislation and negotiated agreements are worked out, said Grylls.
"It can't always be about profits," he said. "We need these companies to sit down and talk and make commitments to the communities where they conduct business to ensure their long-term viability...we need to rethink mining after 100 years."
The Newfoundland government led by former premier Brian Tobin insisted Inco commit to jobs for Newfoundlanders and to build a $1 billion smelter and mill complex and similar deals should be a priority here once the merger is finalized, said Grylls.
Technological advances in mining now allow companies to employ less workers to extract more ore and this is worrisome unless negotiated commitments are in place, said Grylls.
The union's strategy is not to offer a blanket endorsement of the merger nor to condemn it, but to work with stakeholders to attain conditions and set targets to secure the long-term future of operations in Canada, said Grylls.
With mining analysts, government officials and other union leaders so enthusiastic about the proposed merger, Grylls said his union doesn't want to be viewed as pessimists, but proactive leaders attempting to ensure mining will remain vital in Greater Sudbury and Canada for decades to come.
Corporate agendas based solely on making as much money as possible means unions must work harder than ever to ensure good wages, benefits and pensions are not diminished or eliminated, said Grylls.