Vale, United Steelworkers remain at odds over contract
Talks to end the 14-month-old Voisey’s Bay strike ended Sunday the same way every other round of talks have stalled — with the company and union blaming each other for the stalemate.
Vale, operator of the Labrador nickel mine, announced Monday talks had broken off — saying the union has shown “no desire to address the outstanding issues in a constructive manner.”
“USW’s (United Steelworkers union) bargaining committee keeps changing its mind on the outstanding issues — their list of issues changes every time we meet,” said Tom Paddon, Vale’s general manager of operations in the province.
The USW rejected that notion.
“Absolutely not. They’re just getting on with their rhetoric once again,” said Darren Cove, president of USW, Local 9508
“The demands that were tabled were tabled back in July. We had language that we proposed right from the outset and there were no new demands on the table.
“Our demands should come as no surprise to the company.”
Neither side is releasing details of the contract negotiations.
Cove said the union’s bargaining team was willing to accept the same contract language agreed to by workers in Sudbury and Port Colbourne.
He called it “a huge concession — one that we were not sure that the membership would accept.
“In an effort to jump-start negotiations, again, we offered this language … and they said no and they refused to discuss any other issues.”
More than 3,000 workers in Ontario reached a deal with Vale in July, a year after they hit the picket lines.
Among the key strike issues were proposals to reduce a bonus tied to the price of nickel, job transfers, contracting out and pensions.
Vale said it is looking for a collective agreement “that works for Voisey’s Bay.
“Our operations there are quite different than the operations we have in other provinces, and we have to have an agreement that is reflective of a northern, remote, fly-in-fly-out operation,” said Bob Carter, spokesman for Vale.
“In the past, we have seen attempts to cherry-pick elements out of other agreements and drop them into our discussions, whether they be monetary items or language items, and that doesn’t work.”
Carter said the both sides agreed to discuss six issues during a week of talks that began Sept. 18.
When the two sides met again on Saturday, he said the union presented new demands.
“What we see is a continually changing list of demands from the union,” said Carter.
He said Vale presented a fifth proposal.
“Our proposal was comprehensive. It did include, on the monetary side, a full package with bonus, with wage adjustments, with site uplift … a pension adjustment, as well as a return- to-work bonus,” said Carter.
Cove said he’ll talk to his members to see where the union goes from here.
“We’ll be looking for a new mandate. It’ll be up to the membership to decide.
“Our team is understandably disappointed as well.
“But we remain resolved to doing the most responsible thing for our members in getting a fair agreement.”
Cove praised independent mediator Bill Wells — saying he would welcome the former chief of Newfoundland Hydro at the negotiation table in future.
“Mr. Wells is very knowledgeable. He’s a very good asset — not only to the union, but to the company as well.
“We had more talks with him than in the last 14 months,” said Cove.
No further talks are scheduled between the two sides.
Wells was appointed mediator Sept. 16 by Susan Sullivan, minister of human resources, labour and employment.
“I am genuinely disappointed that the parties involved in the Voisey’s Bay labour dispute were unsuccessful in negotiating a collective agreement,” said Sullivan in an e-mailed statement.
“The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will continue to provide whatever assistance is necessary to the parties to help them conclude a collective agreement.”
She is awaiting Wells’ report on the latest round of collective bargaining.
Sullivan was travelling Monday and was unavailable for an interview.