Contract wars

Moira Baird
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Why the Voisey’s Bay union and Vale are fighting

Fourteen months after Voisey’s Bay workers hit the picket lines, the union and the company appear no further ahead in settling the contract dispute.

Boyd Bussey, chief negotiator for United Steelworkers, Local 9508, describes the company’s negotiation tactics as “school-yard bullying.”

“It’s like pulling teeth. They only want to talk about one issue, then they try to beat you into submission. It’s bullying.”

Vale spokesman Bob Carter said the union’s list of demands is rarely the same.

“It’s just indicative of a pattern of negotiations that we have seen where … the sands keep shifting and the list of union demands is changing.”

Here are some of the contract issues.

Contract duration: The union is looking for a five-year contract, the company wants a three-year deal.

“They just gave the workers in Sudbury a five-year agreement in order to bring labour stability to the region, and to give the workers an opportunity to recover from a year-long strike,” said Bussey

“I’m suggesting that we be treated the same way.

“We’ve had two strikes in three years. That project has been shut down 25 per cent of the time due to strikes.”

Vale said that demand is a new one from the union.

“Previously, in proposals that they had tabled with us, they wanted a three-year contract,” said Carter.

“They shifted from three years to five years in July following the conclusion of the collective agreement in Sudbury, which happened to be a five-year agreement.”

Pension: Vale offered to raise its pension contribution from six per cent to eight per cent, and the union says it accepts that proposal.

Bussey said the six per cent contribution was based on an employee’s entire salary, including the current nickel bonus. The eight per cent contribution is based only on wages.

“The pension is probably a negative, but not much — so we’ve agreed to the pension issue,” Bussey said.

Shift premiums: Bussey said night-shift premiums are paid to Vale workers in Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ont. and in Thompson, Man.

“Wal-Mart has a night-shift premium. Everybody pays night shift (premium).

“But they expect the workers in Voisey’s Bay to work night shift for the same pay as the workers who work day shift.”

Vale is not offering a shift premium.

The company’s October proposal on its website ( offers a 10 per cent “site premium” for all employees working consecutive day or night shifts at the Voisey’s Bay mine and concentrator site.

Overtime: The union wants overtime paid after 40 hours of work.

Bussey said unionized workers in Ontario and Manitoba.

“Here, the workers work 168 hours — 14 12-hour shifts in a row.”

Bussey said the union proposed the last four hours of each shift be paid at time-and-a-half rates.

“We expected they would come back and negotiate that, and we would agree somewhere in between. But they just refused to talk about it.”

Carter said the overtime issue came up for the first time during the July talks. The company’s October proposal on website does not include overtime.

Carter said Vale is offering a wage increase of about seven per cent over three years, including cost of living adjustments.

Organizations: Wal-Mart

Geographic location: Voisey, Sudbury, Port Colborne Thompson Ontario Manitoba

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