United Steelworkers (USW) informed that the Vale miners in Sudbury rejected Vale’s new offer on June 14. Turnout was 84 per cent and the offer was rejected by a majority of 87 per cent.
USW pointed out in its press release: “For a second time in two weeks, United Steelworkers 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.”
Vale’s second offer 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.
USW explained that the contract offer rejected by the strikers 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 per cent 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 one per cent 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.
USW pointed out that “Vale paid its shareholders a whopping U.S.$3.88 billion (CAD$4.7 billion) in dividends in the first three months of 2021 alone, and total dividends of U.S.$13.55 billion (approximately CAD$16.4 billion) since 2015. The company also has stockpiled U.S.$12.9 billion (CAD$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.
“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,” Larochelle 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.”