The union for striking Voisey’s Bay workers will ask Premier Danny Williams to change binding arbitration rules — allowing an arbitrator to impose a binding settlement on lengthy labour disputes without both sides agreeing to it first.
That written request goes to the premier this week, according to Boyd Bussey, international representative for the United Steelworkers (USW) union in the province.
Bussey said the union’s contract demands include a bonus on par with what Vale’s Sudbury employees received in July, paid union leave, a five-year deal, shift premiums and overtime.
“In order to try to get a deal, we agreed that we would take the same bonus that they had just gotten agreement on in Sudbury,” said Bussey, who is also USW’s chief negotiator.
That bonus is triggered when world nickel prices exceed $4 per pound and is capped at 25 per cent of regular earnings.
Vale is proposing a bonus of up to 25 per cent of regular earnings. It’s based on individual performance and the company’s local, national and international production performance.
Bob Carter, spokesman for Vale, said it’s the same bonus program that Vale managers and supervisors currently receive at Voisey’s Bay and in other parts of the country.
“It is the same opportunity presented to employees in Sudbury in terms of what the cap is,” said Carter.
Paid union leave
Bussey also said union representatives need paid leave from the regular two weeks of 12-hour, daily shifts at the minesite.
“They work from six in the morning to six in the evening, and then they’re left to deal with union business after six.”
Voisey’s Bay workers do a two-week shift and get two weeks off.
“When they come out, it’s supposed to be two weeks with their families — they’re doing the union business for those two weeks that they’re off.”
The union is asking for one safety person per two-week shift rotation, along with a full-time union president.
“Most of the mines in this country have full-time safety representatives that work for the union and are paid by the company.”
Nine days of mediated talks between USW, Local 9508, and Vale, the operator of the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine, broke off Sunday night.
About 130 mine workers have been on strike for14 months.
Another 117 unionized employees working for contractors who provide catering, security and maintenance services have also been on strike.
No new issues
Bussey said the union has previously raised the issues of contracting out, health and safety, paid union leave, shift premium and overtime.
“Those issues have been on the books … we presented those Feb. 12, 2009. And we haven’t had that many opportunities where they came and talked to us.
“In July, we presented them again and they refused to talk about it — they only wanted to talk about the bonus.
“When we didn’t agree on their bonus system, they refused to talk about our other monetary issues.”
Return to work proposal
Darren Cove, president of USW Local 9508, said the only new issue brought up in the last round of talks was Vale’s proposal for employees to return to work over seven weeks.
“That’s a set of negotiations in itself. It’s a six-page document that brings workers back to work in drib-drabs.
“Depending on the rotation, that could be nine weeks.
“If we signed this today, some people would be looking at the middle of January before they got a paycheque.”
In some cases, the return-to-work process would place striking workers alongside replacement workers at Voisey’s Bay.
“If we’re expected to return to work with the scabs, that’s a very dangerous and volatile situation,” Cove said.
Vale said employees must undergo orientation, medicals and safety training before returning to work.
“Our workforce is quite scattered at this point from what we’ve been told by the union,” Carter said. “Upwards of 50 per cent or more of our workforce are working elsewhere.”
“Given the number of people involved, we figure it’s going to take seven weeks to complete that process.”
The return to work proposal also includes a $2,000 bonus (in addition to a $2,000 bonus for those still working for the company as of Jan. 15, 2011).
The union is briefing union members in towns like Goose Bay, Labrador City, Nain and Wabush on the Vale offer.
Cove expects the members will want to burn it rather than vote on it — just as they did with the last Vale proposal.
“We’re going to take it to them and let them decide if it’s something that they can live with, or if we’re going go back and continue bargaining.”
A vote could take a few days.