Police attend scene on highway near Long Harbour
Workers gather near accommodation buildings at the Vale construction site in Long Harbour Thursday following a walkout by crane operators. — Photo by Elizabeth MacDonald/The Charter
Workers involved in blocking traffic heading for Vale’s nickel processing facility construction site at Long Harbour this morning were violating a court order issued Thursday afternoon, according to a company spokesman.
“It’s clear that the court order is being ignored by the operating engineers and that they have made various attempts this morning to further block access to the site and intimidate those who were showing up for work,” spokesman Bob Carter has told The Telegram.
The RCMP have suggested the blocking of traffic to the site this morning was perhaps “inadvertently” done.
“Regardless, it is a collection point and people who were driving to work this morning weren’t able to get through and many of them just turned around,” Carter said, adding some managed to make their way in from the West, rather than the East ramp off the Trans-Canada Highway.
“The police obviously made the right decision in terms of safety and that’s obviously our top priority, but the net effect of what happened is we still only have a handful, I suspect, of the craft people who should be on site there today, and we lost the night shift last night as well,” Carter said.
The court order has been read out on a couple of occasions and distributed to site contractors.
“We’re reviewing what our next steps will be,” Carter said.
Meanwhile, representatives for the operating engineers and the Resource Development Trades Council have yet to respond to requests for an interview.
The area where the workers gathered this morning has regularly been used as a parking area by a few workers who wanted to avoid the daily congestion of on-site parking areas.
Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 904 pulled off the Trans-Canada Highway into a small parking area near Chapel Arm this morning, gathering to discuss what comes next for them, at Vale’s nickel processing facility construction project at nearby Long Harbour.
As they gathered, according to RCMP Sgt. Marc Coulombe, other workers from the site who were driving by stopped to offer their support to the workers — who had walked off the job yesterday morning in an illegal strike.
“They inadvertently ended up blocking traffic,” Coulombe said.
With the backup of traffic along the highway, the RCMP were called in.
Coulombe said the majority of workers voluntarily dispersed in an attempt to address the traffic problem and the situation was resolved peacefully.
The gathering off the highway extends from a protest action launched Thursday morning, when the crane operators set up at the main gate of the Long Harbour site, as the morning shift was to get underway.
The wildcat strike resulted in 1,500 to 2,000 other tradespeople scheduled to come on shift also not making it in to work.
The illegal job action sent Vale management to the courts yesterday afternoon. A court order was ultimately issued stating the job action must end and there was to be no further activities that might block workers from getting to the construction site.
The Long Harbour project falls under a rare, provincial “special project order,” wherein a collective agreement sees wage rates locked in for the life of the project and workers explicitly agree not to go on strike.
The Resource Development Trades Council negotiated the applicable collective agreement in 2009, on behalf of all 16 unions active at the Long Harbour site. The International Union of Operating Engineers and Local Union 904 is a signatory to that agreement.
As a result of Thursday’s court order, all workers were expected back at site today.