LABRADOR WEST, N.L. - The latest tentative agreement between the Steelworkers union and the Iron Ore company of Canada was presented to union members on Saturday, May 26 at noon. Advance polls have started, and voting will be held at the union hall from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, May 28.
After two failed attempts to reach an agreement, the latest in late March, union members went on strike. That strike has now reached into its ninth week.
The latest tentative agreement contains many differences from the last one, and while both sides weren’t meeting face to face, there was work going on behind the scenes.
Steelworkers Local 5795 President Ron Thomas told the Aurora in an interview that after the rejection of the offer in March he and the vice president made it a point to visit the picket lines and ask members what their issues were.
He said amongst the issues were the layoff and recall of new hires after 48 hours, the 90 day probation period, and no hires being able to take vacation at peak times for the first two years, as well as concerns of the cap on medical benefits and issues with pensions.
Thomas said that efforts to resolve the dispute continued.
“We were in touch back and forth through the conciliator, relaying back and forth what the members would consider a fair agreement,” he said. “Those messages were passed on to the company, and we had constant contact with MHA Graham Letto.”
On Tuesday, May 22, the union received a communication from the company, that they had a new offer.
Negotiations continued and on Friday a message on Facebook from the unions told members they had a new tentative agreement that was being recommended by all three steelworkers union locals.
Besides Local 5795 it also included Local 6731, the warehouse union at IOC in Labrador City, and local 9344, representing about 320 IOC workers in Sept-Iles. Q.C.
The warehouse and Sept-Iles locals decided to strike in a show of solidarity to the members of local 5795 who had several outstanding issues that were not affecting the other two locals.
Following the meetings on Saturday, the Aurora visited the picket line at the main gate of IOC. Workers there said it was a good meeting and that they were pleased with the improvements of the previous offer.
Although reluctant to say how they would vote, it was obvious the mood at the picket line was the most jovial since the beginning of the strike.
As workers digested the contents of the handout of the latest tentative agreement, Thomas highlighted the changes to the Aurora:
- Layoff and recall notices are now 14 days and not 48 hours.
- New hires probation will be 60 days, down from the suggested 90, but not the existing 45 days.
- New hires will not be able to take vacation at peak periods for two years. (Seniority would make it unlikely that new hires would be able to avail of vacation during that time under most circumstances anyway, according to Thomas.)
- The medical cap has increased from $40,000 to $45,000.
- Every member and their dependent that exhausts this cap will still be covered for the life of the contract, for the next five years. Thomas points out this is the first increase since the 1990’s.
- Pension increases under the Hybrid system for Direct Contribution and Direct Benefit recipients.
- Wage increases and increased other benefits.
Thomas also says outstanding grievances will also be taken care of.
Following the meeting advance polls opened and on May 28 voting will be conducted at the Union Centre in Labrador West from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Voting results should be available by 6 p.m.
Thomas also did say he was told by IOC that depending on the demand there could even been some students hired for the summer. Returning strikers who had vacation plans for the summer have the option of cancelling those vacations.
“I’m impressed with the solidarity of the unions, the support of the community, the businesses, and the various unions, finally I can say this is a fair deal, its not 100 per cent of what we aimed for but it is a vast improvement over the offer that led us out to strike late in March,” Thomas said.
In a release from Heather Bruce-Veitch, IOC’s Director of Communications and external relations, said the tentative agreement ‘provides competitive terms and conditions for employees, while allowing IOC to be a sustainable and competitive business.’
“Sentiments that were heard by many union members and by the general public, as the community was showing signs that the strike was having a huge affect on businesses and workers in the service and supply industries,” she said in the release.
The Aurora will bring you up to date on this story and the results of the votes of all three unions when they become available.