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Steelworkers Union in Labrador west looking at possible strike

Ron Thomas, President of United Steelworkers local 5795 in Labrador west.
Ron Thomas, President of United Steelworkers local 5795 in Labrador west. - Photo by Mike Power

Steelworkers local 5795 hold emergency meetings as contract talks with Iron Ore Company of Canada break off.

Negotiations between United Steelworkers local 5795 and IOC in Labrador West have broken off, and on March 5 members were presented with an update from the negotiating team.

Meetings were scheduled for 9 a.m .and 9 p.m. Steelworkers Union President Ron Thomas told the Aurora both sides met late in December in a preliminary meeting with negotiations starting in earnest on January 8.

Thomas said early demands of the company included a change in seniority, and the complete removal of one job category.

The union asked the concessions be removed, eventually walking away from the table over the issues.

“We eventually returned to talks, with the aid of a government appointed conciliator,” Thomas explained.

He then went on to explain say that they met again with the company in Sept Iles on Feb. 28, but there were still some concessions on the table that were not acceptable, so the union broke off talks.

He said one of the major issues concerned pensions.

“The company wants to change pensions so new hires would end up with a pension that is about a third of what current workers get,” he said.

He also said IOC is asking for changes around when a person can retire.

“Presently a person can retire after 30 years’ service, regardless of age,” said Thomas.

A person who started work at 19, for example, can retire at 49, but now the company wants the minimum age of retirement to be 52. This means some people would have to work extra years before retiring.

Workers at IOC receive an extended vacation benefit after five years of service. Until now workers could receive a payout, or take it in vacation time.

Thomas said the company wants to change this so this would be a monetary payout only.

And he said there is also a proposal to change the way overtime payments are calculated after a worker has taken a family day or been off sick. That amendment did not go over well with workers.

Following the meetings, workers were asked to vote.

The question on the ballot was, “Do you give your negotiating committee a strike mandate?”

Workers can also vote Tuesday March 6th at the Union Centre.

The next step in the process will be to have the conciliator write a report. That then goes to Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Al Hawkins, who has to sign off on it.  All that could happen as early as this week. Fifteen days after that date the union has the right to call a strike vote.

Thomas said they hope it doesn’t come to that.

“We don’t want a strike, we just want our fair share, and we don’t want to go backwards.”

He cited factors such as the increases in the ore market, increased productivity, records have been set, and nearby projects Bloom Lake and Wabush Mines are in the process of reopening.

The last strike at IOC was in 2007, which lasted from March 9 till April 23. When asked about the current situation he summed it up this way.

“Nobody can afford a strike, nobody wants a strike but if pushed into a corner, we may have no choice.”

There are approximately 1500 Steelworkers at IOC.

Earlier story:

Another bump in the road for IOC contract negotiations in Labrador City

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