* NOTE: USW Local 6500 representatives will hold a media availability tomorrow, Tuesday, June 15, at 9:00 a.m. EDT, in the parking lot of the Steelworkers Hall, 66 Brady Street, Sudbury.
SUDBURY, Ontario–(BUSINESS WIRE)–For a second time in two weeks, United Steelworkers (USW) members in Sudbury have soundly rejected contract concessions demanded by mining giant Vale, prompting the union to call on the company to commit to good-faith negotiations to settle a strike by 2,500 workers.
USW Local 6500 members voted by an 87% majority today to reject Vale’s second offer, which maintained similar concessions to the company’s initial offer that provoked the strike on June 1, the union said.
“Vale’s employees have said emphatically that they want this employer to stop attacking their benefits, to stop eroding the standard of living for the next generation, to stop taking more and more away from our families and our community, especially during good times,” said USW Local 6500 President Nick Larochelle.
“The message from our members is clear: ‘Back off the concessions, get back to the table and negotiate a deal that puts people before profits – then the profits will flow.”
The contract offer rejected by the strikers today had maintained Vale’s demands to weaken health benefits for existing workers and to eliminate the retiree health and medical benefit plan for all future hires. The company had proposed a post-retirement $1,000 “health-care savings account” for future hires which would take away nearly 80% of the coverage currently provided under the existing plan. Coverage for some medications and medical supplies would be entirely eliminated.
Vale’s offer provided little to nothing in terms of pension improvements and annual wage increases of 1% after accounting for cost-of-living adjustments. A menial increase was proposed for workers in the defined-benefit pension plan, while Vale offered no increase in its contributions to members in the defined-contribution pension plan.
“The terms of Vale’s concessionary offer were unacceptable given the wealth our members are generating for the company and the bright prospects for the future,” Larochelle said.
Vale paid its shareholders a whopping US $3.88 billion (CAN $4.7 billion) in dividends in the first three months of 2021 alone, and total dividends of US $13.55 billion (approximately CAN $16.4 billion) since 2015. The company also has stockpiled US $12.9 billion (CAN $15.6 billion) in cash, as of the end of March this year.
Union members also were angered to learn that Vale took $67.7 million from Canadian taxpayers last year – in the form of pandemic-related subsidies from the federal government – yet the company has revoked a pandemic bonus previously offered to its Sudbury employees.
The $2,500 pandemic bonus was offered by Vale in its first contract proposal two weeks ago.
“Withdrawing the pandemic bonus, after stating explicitly that our members deserved it for their efforts over the past year, feels like retribution,” Larochelle said. “It’s a slap in the face to workers who accepted an unprecedented one-year contract with zero increases last year, who endured COVID-19 outbreaks in their workplaces and who stayed on the job throughout the pandemic.”
Union members also called out “empty words” expressed publicly during earlier stages of negotiations by a top Vale executive, North American chief operating officer Dino Otranto.
“Many of our members have told us they feel betrayed by Mr. Otranto,” Larochelle said.
“Mr. Otranto told our entire community that the future was very bright for Sudbury and that his corporation needed to embrace different ways of thinking, to shed the know-it-all attitude and start engaging, listening, and caring for its employees in order to build a future that all Sudburians want,” he said.
“Instead, our members are once again on the picket lines, resisting more demands for concessions from Vale. Our members and the community are still waiting to see a new approach from this corporation.
“Negotiating a contract that shows Vale is listening, that it truly cares for its employees, would be a good start.”
Nick Larochelle, USW Local 6500 President, 705-675-3381, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pascal Boucher, USW Staff Representative, 705-675-2461, email@example.com
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, 416-894-7118 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org