UPDATE: Wildcat strike at Long Harbour

Company preparing application to courts to have protest line opened

Published on July 12, 2012
Workers at the Long Harbour site lay rebar for one of the buildings at Vale's nickel processing facility in Long Harbour. — File photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

A court order has been issued in Supreme Court in St. John’s this afternoon, potentially shutting down a wildcat strike launched this morning.

The order states workers are “restrained” from encouraging or “in any way participating in” the unlawful strike.

They are also not to obstruct others from entering the Long Harbour construction site, according to court documents obtained by The Telegram.

The wildcat strike began this morning, when members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 904, walked off the job and thousands of workers from other unions were kept from entering the site.

“It appears the operating engineers are suggesting their wage rates should be increased to be made comperable with Alberta,” said Vale spokesman Bob Carter.

Yet 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 a 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.

“It sets out all the terms and conditions for work — including wages,” Carter said.

Earlier reports had suggested the potential introduction of temporary foreign workers later this summer was also a trigger for the illegal job action.

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Crane operators working at the Vale construction site in Long Harbour have walked off the job this morning and are keeping other workers from getting onto the site for the morning shift.

The workers are with the operating engineers, who have about 100 people at the site, according to Vale spokesman Bob Carter.

They have set up at the main gate and are keeping out 1,800 to 2,000 other tradespeople scheduled to come on shift.

“It’s an illegal wildcat strike,” Carter said. “We are currently preparing an application with the courts to keep them from preventing other workers coming on site.”

Carter said the company had received no notice whatsoever the workers were going to launch the protest.

He said the root cause of the strike was “unclear,” but reports suggest it is related to temporary foreign workers.

To date, the Vale site has been able to fill positions with workers from this province and across Canada, but workers from outside of Canada have been considered an option as the project moves to its peak construction employment later this summer.

The Long Harbour site currently employs between 4,200 and 4,300 people, Carter said.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com