United Steel Workers (USW) members from Sudbury, Ontario, are on strike to protect important, hard won benefits including pensions and the "nickel bonus". The bonus is a profit sharing mechanism paid to Vale Inco mine workers when nickel prices are high. Despite making substantial profits in recent years, the company is claiming that its Sudbury operations are not sustainable. Vale Inco staff are on record as saying they want to harmonize labour benefits across their global operations.
Workers from Vale Inco's Voisey Bay operation in Labrador have rejected the companies offer as well and are set to strike starting on August 1st. The 450 workers at the Voisey's Bay mine and nickel processing concentrator voted 99 per cent against the company's offer!
Visit the Sudbury USW workers' website for updates and more information.
Follow this link for media coverage of the strike: CBC/Canadian Press, July 13: Vale Inco workers at Sudbury start picketing
LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY
Dear members of the community,
The workers at Vale-Inco have done everything we could to avoid a strike.
We know how hard this will be on our members and on our communities. Equally, we also know how hard it would be on our members and their communities if we had accepted the company's demands for dramatic long-term restructuring and cuts to how we are compensated.
This round of bargaining has been nothing like the past negotiations with Inco. Vale, the new owner who currently is a massively profitable multinational from Brazil, has chosen to use the current economic conditions as simply an excuse to extract deep long-term cuts with little regard for maintaining the family incomes that sustain our communities.
The fact is that in the past two years, Vale has extracted twice as much profit from Ontario as Inco had in the previous 10 years.
We understand these are very difficult economic times, and we let this fact guide us during the entire negotiating process. However, Vale's focus has not been on trying to find ways to get through these difficult times. (Given they have $22 billion US of cash assets on hand, you can see why they are not as concerned about this issue as we thought they would be.)
Rather, their main focus has been on dramatically reducing a benefit that does not pay a single cent now (or in any economic hard time).
The nickel bonus is an innovative mechanism developed by Inco and USW to allow workers to partially benefit in good times and to help protect the company in bad times. The fact that Vale is attacking this benefit (that currently pays nothing) shows they are not motivated by the current economic situation.
Vale would rather use this moment to attack a fair mechanism knowing that good times will eventually return.
At the same time, it appears Vale is quite willing to give its senior executives a share of the profits now. Total compensation to the top six Vale executives increased by 120% in the last two years (from 2006 to 2008).
Still Vale insists they need to radically impose these concessions from their Canadian workers.
We believe that every person who lives or works in the communities of Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey's Bay should recognize that the health and viability of their community is being threatened.
The question is not whether Vale Inco can survive this economic recession. Their profits answer that question. The real question is whether our communities will have the crucial middle-class family incomes when we eventually come out of this recession.
For Canada, the question is whether our natural resources, and the hard and dangerous jobs involved in their extraction, can provide the reliable and hardworking families a middle-class compensation.
For foreign companies to extract those Canadian resources and reap such substantial profits, but not provide our families and communities with hard-working secure incomes is just not right.
We ask for, and appreciate, your support.
USW locals 6500, 6200 and 6480