UPDATED: Go back to work, unions urge strikers

Colin MacLean
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Story unfolding today at Long Harbour site

Hundreds of workers from the unions active at Long Harbour's construction site are continuing an illegal job action that began last Thursday.

Workers have gathered in a gravel parking area off the roadway, just around the corner from the off-ramp at Chapel Arm.

While the initial job action was credited to crane operators, it is now clear members from most if not all unions are now participating.

Workers who spoke with The Telegram say they are willing to risk losing their jobs because they feel union leaders are no longer representing their interests.

Workers made specific complaints- noting the complaints had been spelled out in hundreds of unresolved grievances on file with the employers and union leadership.

Tom Murphy with the operating engineers said he filed a grievance two years ago.

"I'm in there operating a concrete plant and I have no foreman," he told The Telegram.

"That's not the way it's supposed to be."

Murphy said he was told by the business manager at his union last December a resolution would be coming in a month or two. He said the issue is still outstanding.

His work at the site, he estimated, will be completed anywhere from December of this year to March.

"They never deal with it," said Kevin Manning, who said he expects to be dismissed from his job for the action, even though, he said, the original agreement isn't being followed.

Vale was awarded a court order against the job action last week.

The union leaders, through the umbrella organization negotiating on behalf of the 16 trade unions, has said all workers not returning to work are offering up their positions at the site.

The Telegram will have more on this story later today.

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Previous Story

By the time most people sit down for their morning coffee and read this story its next chapter will have already been written.

Will striking workers at Vale’s Long Harbour construction site go back to work? Or will they risk losing their jobs and continue with their strike?

Sunday night, the workers of Long Harbour were faced with such a choice.

And they faced it without the support of their unions.

The Resource Development Trades Council held a news conference Sunday and told its members to go to work today — or risk losing their jobs.

Gus Doyle, president of the council, told reporters that such action is inevitable if the workers don’t go back to work.

“If not today, maybe tomorrow. The employer will decide that. But yes, eventually they will replace these workers,” said Doyle.

He added he hopes the situation will not deteriorate that far.

The council represents 16 unions involved in the construction of the Vale nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

 

A wildcat strike has paralyzed the massive project since Thursday.

Crane operators working at the site walked off the job in the early morning hours of Thursday. Other workers from other trade unions would not go on site, effectively shutting work down. Individual members of other trade unions have since joined crane operators in their protest.

A court injunction ordered them not to block access to the site, but a picket line continued over the weekend.

The trades council announced Sunday it did not sanction the strike and said in no uncertain terms it does not support any continuation of it.

 

Council talking to protesters

The council, by way of its member unions, has been talking with the protesters since they walked off the job Thursday.

Unfortunately, nothing came from those meetings, said Doyle.

“We tried to address those concerns with them and, unfortunately, we were unable to. We’re not sure what these workers plan for the future and what they will do. The rest of the workers, the workers that we represent on the this site, will be back on the job tomorrow morning and things will continue as they did, prior to this action on Thursday morning,” he said.

The group that started the strike, the crane operators, originally said in media interviews they were fed up with having low wages compared with the rest of the country. They were also upset at the prospect of American skilled trades workers being brought onto the site.

Some of the workers who have been picketing drove to St. John’s to attend the trades council’s news conference.

Those that spoke with The Telegram (not all of whom were from the crane operators’ union) added other grievances to the list. They included: low morale at the worksite, changes to the work schedule on short notice and changes to living allowances.

They also expressed great frustration their unions are not supporting them. And there were claims Vale has broken their collective agreement by reducing living allowances.

 

‘We want to work’

One man, Gerald Musseau, said he moved home from Alberta to work for Vale and wants to go back to work — but not while these grievances are outstanding.

“We want to work in Newfoundland. We’ve been gone all our lives. I’ve been gone for 20 years. We want to work for Vale,” he said.

Worker Todd Brocklehurst added, “We’re not asking for anything more than we already had.”

But the trades council refutes the claim of Vale breaking the agreement.

It has investigated the workers claims, it said, and come up empty.

“We can’t find any truth to these allegations. It’s been reviewed and looked at. If it is true, it will be addressed,” said Doyle.

He also denied claims by the strikers that their concerns are being ignored.

“It’s not lack of support. It’s lack of giving them the answer they prefer to hear,” he said.

Some of the workers’ concerns have to do with wages, he added, and that is a topic that is not open for change at Long Harbour.

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 council negotiated the applicable collective agreement in 2009, on behalf of all 16 unions active at the Long Harbour site.

Reopening that agreement is “not in the cards,” said Doyle.

In conclusion, he encouraged everyone to show up for work today.

“There is no sanctioned picket line by any union in the (council) and in fact we’re totally against what the workers are doing and the way they are addressing these issues. They keep saying their issues are not being looked at. That’s totally wrong,” he said.

 

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramMacLean

Organizations: Resource Development Trades Council

Geographic location: Long Harbour, Alberta, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • westerner
    July 16, 2012 - 10:24

    I keep hearing of this "better life" in Alberta, but from looking these guys have it pretty good, I would love my employer to pay me to have a home, and the expectation of 25 grand plus a pretty good wage is insane. What these guys don't realize is that all the big companies are watching and I am sure they are figuring out ways to do most of the work in the states and putting it on barges to save the headaches of a bunch of people with a misguided sense of entitlement. I hope they get fired and replaced due to the lack of honoring a contract that your leaders say is valid

  • dana
    July 16, 2012 - 10:06

    I think they should be let go. They did not show up for work so they don't want to work. My spouse has been paying into the union for the past 3 years and I'm sick of dropping off money for him so he can get 2-3 weeks work and then go down on the list again. Right now he is 118th on the list and I would LOVE for him to get a job here in NL. The only job we can get is me going into Donovan's Industrial Park and paying the dues. It is great to get the high money in Alb., but that means he will not see his 4 yr old son brian grow up. There is no live for us up there so we want to stay home with all our family.

  • newfie girl
    July 16, 2012 - 09:39

    This is all very crazy. . . I know lots of people who are working at the site and yes they have definitely been doing some wrong things considering i know that there has been some guys who have had to quit because they are not being reimbursed for their travel expenses and also others who have not been getting their LOA and they keep jerking them around. The site has a lot of troubles with their management and some serious power struggles amongst them. The workers at camp are even hearing rumours that if they don't go in to work they are considered quit and booted out of the union and a possibility of being fined a whopping $10,000.00 fine for being on the picket line. Tell me how this is fair for them to be able to do this to a man with a family or a single mother who is trying to help support his/her family. It's like they are being strong armed into going back to work. And what happens when they do everyone will hate each other on site cuz the ones that stayed will be ridiculed and the ones that went out on the strike will be punished by the management cuz they are definitely going to have some sort of action taken against them for doing this. As far as I'm concerned by the unions signing the collective agreement stating that no strikes or lockouts they basically gave the companies the right to do as they please to the workers. And tha'ts exactly what they have been doing from day one. . . .seeing just how far they could push the workers

    • Brett
      July 16, 2012 - 13:27

      After listening to open line - I feel I have a much better understanding of the issues. The telegram should look in to the past attempts at finding resolutions for grievances and show whether Vale is or is not playing a delaying tactic game. If that is the case - the province should step in. I still disagree with the "Wildcat" nature of the strike (but that is semantics) as I believe it would have been in the workers better interest to declare that they would strike by date "x" if vale didn't stop delaying their payments on lost arbitration cases, and the muddled approach of explaining the workers issues has made this seem more of a "reneging on a deal based on wages" on behalf of the workers rather than Vale not honouring their commitments. If Vale has been found to not be honouring their end of the bargain, I say hit them hard with penalties 3-4x's damages for each employee. The idea that some of the payment mechanisms changed after being initially started (payment for rent/etc) is appalling. It leads one to believe that after consideration some people thought that they could start to nickel and dime the employees and short change them to increase profits after having lawyer sessions to play word games with the agreement.

  • Don
    July 16, 2012 - 08:57

    Amanda --------------- Michelle is right. The next thing this crowd will want is travel allowance to and from work, the same as they get in Alberta. These people have to realize they are living in Newfoundland , next door to their work. My suggestion to these people is to go back to Alberta , which they will have to do as soon as they are fired.

  • David
    July 16, 2012 - 08:46

    Anyone still wonder why company executives in all industries roll their eyes and would rather go anywhere else to engage in business than Newfoundland? And everyone here gets really chuffed up about this entirely misinterpreted, mythical reputation Newfoundlanders have for being "hard workers"...you know where that whole thing started? It was earned by the ones who had the guts to leave home, appreciated the opportunity they had, and proved themselves....not these whiny, lazy, shameless louts.

  • Susan
    July 16, 2012 - 08:41

    The Long Harbour Project has a very low working morale and it is not just the trades union that know this! Wake up managemet!!

  • Roy
    July 16, 2012 - 08:08

    It's plain and simple. They aren't on strike. They didn't quit. There's no need to fire them because they've abandoned their jobs. Usually that means no severance or pay for that work period. What you got out there is a thousand loiterers. If the pay is so bad then the company shouldn't be able to bring in other workers. We'll soon see if that claim is true.

  • Work-for-a-Living
    July 16, 2012 - 08:02

    Greedy Union Workers should all be back to work or fired. If you hire someone to do your roof, fix your plumbing or anything else and half way done they say pay us more or we will stop work and block anyone else from coming in. Answer: Move them out or get arrested. Don't like the job then it is a free world so quit and go wherever you think the grass is greener. They will not quit like the guy that said the other day on radio he only makes $100,000 a year and has to get up at 4am - get real.

  • Jack
    July 16, 2012 - 07:59

    Turry From Town, even with the Long Harbour Project, tradespeople in this province are still screaming for work. In fact, over the last two years, you hear about numerous apprenticeship trades graduates having difficult time getting jobs as Electricians, Construction Workers, Hairstylists, Bakers, Cooks, Heavy Equipment Operators, Welders, Steamfitter/Pipefitters, and other trades. Trades unions and poor government policy are the root of this problem. Due to trades unions not giving apprentices an opportunity to practice their trade in their own backyard, many of them have to resort to working low skill job at close to minimum wage. Even a friend of mine who completed a Construction/Industrial Electrician program at Academy Canada, but unable to get long time work. This person is now reduced to working at a minimum wage job at Extreme Pita and living with his/her parents as opposed to practicing a trade and working towards Journeyperson status.

  • Amanda
    July 16, 2012 - 07:50

    @ Michelle I dont think you really understand the trades Michelle. This company is not paying the same wages as they do in Alberta and thats not right. My husband is a carpenter and right now he makes a fairly decent living working here in St. John's. He would make a little bit better is he were to go to long harbor but there are some major safety concerns there. the level of safety out there is way below par and one day its going to take someones death to change that. this information comes from a friend of mine who works as a health and safety officer. so many of these men come home to work 12 hour days, in an unsafe environment for less pay just so they can be home a little bit more often to watch their families grow up. the newfoundland government should be happy that all of these men are home and working back here on this island and they should back them up!

    • Jack
      July 16, 2012 - 08:04

      Amanda, that's exactly the point I'm trying to make about the Long Harbour project and its toxic work environment, not only in management and work conditions, but also inadequate safety. What are Vale Inco going to do when more tradespeople go to the Alberta Oil Sands in Fort McMurray or Halifax Shipbuilding in Halifax?

  • Jeremiah
    July 16, 2012 - 07:42

    It is just not fair! Those men are not used to working more than 420 hrs per yr. They need their EI fix and besides the rec fishery is about to open and then there is moose hunting. How can a body be expected to stand the pressure! The quad is hardly ever used for God's sake!

  • Michelle
    July 16, 2012 - 07:25

    If the workers are ignoring a court injunction then start arresting them and putting them in jail. And then fire them and hire people that would be grateful to have jobs!

  • Brett
    July 16, 2012 - 07:13

    En masse quit then. Every last union member + let the union have to struggle to find new people who will work on the vale project. And then tell the other members not to take the positions. The issue of having no union members working for them will cause Vale as much trouble as striking. There are rules for striking and the workers didn't follow them, so then they should just quit en masse instead. Make the union find another job elsewhere to put them back to work. But don't expect courts to force vale to hire you back at higher wages. Your union agreed with the wages, and that's the agreement - it's for what - 3 years? You don't live in Alberta, and wages across the country vary by region. I make far more in Toronto than I do here, I don't work in a trade - but I did have to cut my salary in half to move to NL. The FortMac vs. NL argument is not a good one.

  • Turry from town
    July 16, 2012 - 07:08

    Hit the road Jack! These workers are in an illegal wildcat strike.If they are true union tradespeople,then they should let the union reps deal with the issues.Years ago when there was little work here,trades people would be screaming out for work,then they would go on strike halfway through a project to hold projects ransome to get higher wages.This sent a bad message around the world and companies would not want to set up here.I guess nothing has changed in the mentality of NL tradespeople.Maybe all projects should be done out of province or by foreign workers.Seems you people don't mind commuting to Alberta.

  • Jack
    July 16, 2012 - 06:36

    If Vale Inco Long Harbour project workers are fired because they exercise their right to strike, then the Newfoundland and Labrador Government better be prepared for numerous wrongful dismissal suits against the company before the courts, resulting in a justice system that is already backlogged. In addition, Vale Inco firing employees for going on strike will also send a message that this company is not a great place to work due to a perceived toxic, meaning not very friendly, work environment, uncompetitive compensation packages compared to Fort McMurray and Alberta Oil Sends or Halifax and its Irving Shipbuilding project, frequent layoffs, and abrupt layoffs when employees are just hired. Maybe if "down under" or Southern Hemisphere based companies listened to their employees, make their companies competitive, and stop using an autocratic management style, you'll get more employees working for Vale Inco or its Long Harbour project. However, its important to note that not everyone working on the Long Harbour project are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; in fact, most of them are from outside the province.

    • Joe
      July 16, 2012 - 07:02

      The "right to strike", like every right, is not absolute. An illegal strike on the basis of vague allegations that even their own union doesn't recognize is not a valid or legal strike. The terms of the Vale deal were negotiated in 2009; you don't get to walk off the job because you don't like the deal that was negotiated by the people you elected to negotiate for you. Get back to work, or get replaced. That's the only deal they're entitled to in this situation.

    • Onsite
      July 16, 2012 - 07:16

      Jack, the workers DO NOT have a right to strike....

    • The sideline
      July 16, 2012 - 08:33

      You are missing the point Jack. They DON't have a right to strike. They are in the middle of a binding contract.