Blog Entry

Falconbridge Strike Analysis: a Union Perspective

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Based on a CAW Mine Mill Local 598 newsletter article written by Brian Macdonald and Norm Chammus: Despite assurances from the company last spring that they had no intention of undermining employee rights in the Collective Agreement, on May 2nd, 2000, an exchange of demands was initiated and the Company presented a major document, complete with a lengthy list of concessions amounting to a complete re-write of the existing collective agreement.

Included in the list of "take-aways" was the elimination of five full-time union officials positions, changing the stewardship structure, a total re-writing of the collective agreement regarding seniority rights, lay-off rights, recall rights, contracting out, vacation scheduling, job transfers and health and safety. As well, the document also called for the dismantling of all joint committees that were established to deal with these issues, including skilled trades, apprenticeships, training and the Joint Job Evaluation Committee.

The majority of talks taking place thereafter, and until the strike began, were wasted in an attempt to simply return to a reasonable starting point, as promised by the Company at the start of talks in the spring of 2000. During this time, Falconbridge management was representing itself as the injured party, claiming that the only true stumbling block was union inflexibility concerning union representation, while all the time attempting to hide all the proposed "take-aways" within the body of some 20 articles and eight letters attached to the contract proposal.

It seems clear that while the Company management was advocating labour peace to its members and the community, a strike was aggressively being planned.

Early last spring, the Company erected fences surrounding the property, and positioned a new security office at the main entrance. Preferred supplier lists were compiled. Job postings for replacement workers were appearing on the Internet and former supervisory staff, long retired, were being contacted to provide manpower for critical tasks. It was also during this time, long before the August 1st deadline, that the now infamous strike-breaking security firm, Accu-Fax, was hired, the Company paying an estimated $400,000 just to ensure the contract. It was also at this time that both senior Sudbury Operations managers, Brent Chertow and Allen Hayward, began holding discussions with employees to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt of viability in the Company's future as a nickel supplier. These managers were heard to comment at these meetings that a potential strike would last at least six months.

When the strike finally arrived, it was then the Company claimed the problem to be union-initiated and revolved around a perceived threat to its executive and power.

The problem, in the Union's view, was never in the idea of trimming union representation to better reflect the changing work force at Falconbridge or the restructuring of the stewardship body to better represent this work force. The concern was, and remains, the fair treatment of the worker through such hard fought-for inclusions such as safety and health committees, etc., and fair representation on these committees as well as seniority rights and job protection.

The detailed Union representation at risk is a result of long years and substantial effort to use the enormous collective knowledge of the Union and its members.

The strike team appointed by Falconbridge Limited has a two-step plan in the Union's view. Playing the Ontario six-month legislation to the extreme, they hope to break the resolve of the union members by offering them scab jobs, then rely on a government-supervised vote at the end of the six months, at a time when their strike team feels the Union members are ready. The membership has held up well considering the awful circumstances they have had to deal with.

Falconbridge has started to feel the results of its short-cuts during the strike. Now they are feeling the financial and operational impacts.