Vale Voisey’s Bay Workers Still On Strike – by Darren Cove, President, USW, Local 9508

Originally published August 2, 2010

Last week, Newfoundland and Labrador – and scores of our working families – were saddled with a dubious Canadian distinction, the result of a foreign corporation’s aggressive and unprecedented anti-labour agenda.

The mining strike at Voisey’s Bay, provoked last summer by Brazil-based corporate giant Vale, entered its second year on Sunday, Aug. 1. The strike has become the longest-ever labour dispute in the century-long history of former Inco Ltd. mining operations in Canada.

Perhaps most disturbing is the fact this dispute is being prolonged by Vale’s second-class treatment of Newfoundland and Labrador workers compared to Vale employees elsewhere in Canada.

Our union, United Steelworkers Local 9508, has offered to settle the Voisey’s Bay strike by accepting the same deal Vale reached last month with its employees in Ontario. But Vale is attempting to dictate that workers in our province — including many aboriginal employees — accept a lesser contract, with inferior bonuses and benefits, compared to the Ontario settlement.

We find it offensive that a foreign corporation such as Vale would treat the workers of Newfoundland and Labrador as second-class Canadians. We have brought Vale’s appalling conduct to the attention of Premier Danny Williams and have respectfully asked the premier and his government to help resolve this untenable situation.

For more than a year, our 130 members and their families have valiantly stood up to the Vale’s attacks on their incomes and working standards. We believe it is insulting and reprehensible for Vale to dictate that 130 workers in our province must accept an inferior bonus system and collective agreement than the one afforded to 3,000 Ontario workers.

However, Vale continues to act with impunity in carrying out its agenda, including its use of replacement workers, which undermines the collective bargaining process and is proven to create longer and more acrimonious labour disputes.

With its massive wealth and power, and a tradition of ruthlessly imposing its will on workers in developing countries, Vale has shown little interest in compromising in order to reach a settlement at Voisey’s Bay. Vale appears quite willing to prolong the strike until Newfoundland and Labrador workers accept second-class status.

It also is clear that Vale’s position is not based on economic constraints of any kind. Vale has remained immensely profitable during the global recession and its own projections call for even greater profits ahead. Vale stands to earn billions in the future as it exploits our province’s natural resources at Voisey’s Bay — one of the richest mineral deposits of its kind in the world.

Vale has insisted it does not want to eliminate or break our union. If that is the case, why is Vale taking such a heavy-handed approach? Why is it dictating that Newfoundland and Labrador workers, that aboriginal employees, must accept an inferior bonus system and contract compared to workers in Ontario?

With our strike now into its second year, Vale shows no sign of backing away from its arrogant and hardline conduct toward the workers of our province.

The people and government of Newfoundland and Labrador granted Vale the privilege of profiting massively from exploiting our province’s mineral riches. In return, this foreign corporation appears to believe it can dictate that our working people and communities receive second-class treatment and an inferior share of the wealth we generate.

We are looking forward to working with Williams and our government to ensure Vale treats the working families of Newfoundland and Labrador with the equal respect and dignity we deserve