We Call on Vale to Respect Its Employees and Our Community – United Steelworkers (March 19, 2010)

Posted in: News, Release
This a reply letter by the United Steelworkers in reply to Vale’s letter published in the March 17th Sudbury Star.

In the latest “open letter” published by Vale Inco, this foreign corporation again demonstrates its contempt for our community and for Canada’s democratic traditions and labour relations culture. But most of all, Vale demonstrates a shocking disrespect for its employees.

Indeed, the most disturbing aspect of Vale’s latest public attacks may well be its blatant disregard for the independence, intellect, and judgment of thousands of its workers.

As you know, striking Vale employees in Sudbury and Port Colborne recently voted 90 per cent against the company’s last contract offer. After eight months on the picket lines, the vote was even more emphatic than an earlier contract rejection at the strike’s onset in July 2009.

To a reasonable, objective observer, such an unequivocal result would suggest serious shortcomings with Vale’s contract offer. It would suggest that a company that purports to care for its employees would want to address these issues in the democratic Canadian way – at the bargaining table with the employees’ legally-sanctioned and democratically-elected representatives.

Roman Catholic Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe is one such impartial – and very concerned – observer.

“If 89% of the workforce rejected it, it must have been something not acceptable,” Bishop Plouffe said of Vale’s contract offer.

Such thoughtful and reasonable views are dismissed outright by Vale.

In fact, in its latest finger-pointing letter, Vale accepts no responsibility for the overwhelming rejection of its contract offer. Just as it accepts no obligation to compromise and return to bargaining. Just as it accepts no responsibility for provoking, or prolonging, the labour dispute.

Instead, Vale blames the resounding denunciation of its contract offer on “fear-mongering” and “manipulating facts” by United Steelworkers’ elected leaders.

Such an allegation speaks volumes about Vale’s respect and esteem for its employees. It insults thousands of working men and women in our community by suggesting they do not have the intellect, common sense and judgment to independently assess information and make their own decisions.

Fortunately, the reality is that Vale’s striking employees are smart and independent-thinking. They are also knowledgeable, especially when it comes to the terms and conditions of their employment and the collective bargaining process.

The reality is that, before they voted on Vale’s latest contract offer, the striking employees had several days to privately and thoroughly study the offer and consider its implications. They had access to union and company information. They were able to discuss the offer with their spouses, their extended families, their co-workers, their friends and others whom they trust.

In the end, the workers rejected Vale’s offer even though it meant continuing to endure the pain and stress of an eight-month labour dispute. It was not a decision taken lightly. But the workers rejected Vale’s offer because they fully understood its implications, for themselves, for their families, for their co-workers and successors and for their community’s future.

The workers fully understood that while Vale attempted to dress up its offer as a real deal, it actually consisted of a series of minor changes and a refusal to adequately address any of the crucial concerns (pensions, cap on the nickel bonus, seniority, contracting out, job security). The workers learned and understood their bargaining committee had made extraordinary efforts and proposals to settle these issues, but Vale did not reciprocate.

The workers understood the tremendous and unprecedented good faith shown by their bargaining committee in offering to end the strike immediately and settle the outstanding issues through binding arbitration. The workers understood that arbitrated settlements are common in Vale’s home country of Brazil, but Vale scoffs at such a resolution for its employees in Canada.

After causing eight months of economic and social upheaval in Canada, Vale continues to ignore the invitation of its employees and the pleas of our political, community and religious leaders to negotiate a fair settlement.

Rather than commit to negotiating a resolution to the eight-month strike it caused, it continues to focus more of its energy and resources on attacking Canadian working families, communities and values.

Rather than negotiate meaningfully, Vale is spending untold millions for lawsuits and court battles against Sudbury’s workers, our families and our union; a public relations campaign that rings more hollow with each passing day; and the unprecedented recruitment and on-site housing of scabs to try to operate during a labour dispute it provoked.

Incredibly, Vale indicates in its latest attack letter that the “responsible option” is neither good-faith bargaining nor binding arbitration. Vale says the “responsible option” at this point is to push ahead with its scab recruitment and its attempts to operate strike-bound facilities.

We believe Vale should take the sage advice of Bishop Plouffe when he says, “I still think the way out of this is to get back to the (bargaining) table.”

Vale, one of the largest and most profitable multinationals on the planet, continues to demonstrate its takeover of Inco Ltd. has been a major detriment to Canada, our working families and our communities.

Vale already has taken billions of dollars in Sudbury profits from our country. As it looks ahead to further exploiting our precious – and non-renewable – natural resources, Vale wants to take more and give back less.

Unlike what our community has experienced for generations, Vale has a corporate culture they developed in other countries that does not value our community’s prosperity, sustainability and development as part of its bottom line.

The United Steelworkers, and we believe most Canadians, denounce Vale’s behaviour and its agenda for our country as unacceptable. We again call on our provincial and federal governments to protect Canada’s interests by using their influence and levers of power to compel Vale to deal fairly with its Canadian employees and communities.

We believe Sudbury deserves nothing less.