USW schedules final offer meeting, but talks continue – by John Barker (Thompson Citizen – September 1, 2011)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000.

Nychyporuk says ‘both sides still have intentions of reaching a deal’

USW Local 6166 has scheduled a “final offer” presentation from Vale Sept. 12, but talks continue.

“Vale hasn’t made a final offer, we posted dates just to inform our members when the offer will be … We are currently starting the monetary process and both sides still have intentions of reaching a deal,” Local 6166 President Murray Nychyporuk said Friday night.

The union will present a final offer to the membership Sept. 12 between 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion – four days after the union holds a strike mandate vote Sept. 8 at the Steel Centre. The 13-hour strike vote will be held between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Seeking a strike mandate at this point in contact talks is an important but fairly routine part of the collective bargaining process, aimed at giving the union negotiating committee the strongest hand possible while talks go down to the wire, but not necessarily indicating one way or the other the likelihood of an actual strike.

In 2008, the 1,250 United Steelworkers Local 6166 workers here at Manitoba Operations inked the current three-year collective agreement with Vale on Sept. 15, 2008 – the very day Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed. Workers voted 65.5 per cent in favour of the contract, which included wage increases in each year of the agreement consistent with their last contract, and pension improvements. The tentative deal had been reached three days earlier on Sept. 12, 2008.

Since the last contract was signed here on the cusp of worldwide economic chaos, Vale and the USW have engaged in two long and bitter labour disputes, both now resolved, in Sudbury and Voisey’s Bay. After almost a year on the picket line between July 2009 and July 2010, striking Steelworkers at Local 6500 in Sudbury and Local 6200 in Port Colborne, Ont. voted about 75 per cent to ratify a five-year deal with Vale, four days short of a year of going on strike.

Striking United Steelworkers Local 9508 Vale workers at Voisey’s Bay fly-in nickel mine in northern Labrador voted 88 per cent in favour of a new five-year contract the end of January to end their bitter 18-month strike against, which began Aug. 1, 2009, and return to work.

The last major labour dispute at Vale’s Manitoba Operations was 12 years ago – an 11-week lockout by the company of unionized employees between September and December 1999.

USW Local 6166’s negotiating committee is headed by Nychyporuk and includes from the mines department Dan Dnistransky and Scott Clements; from the maintenance department Warren Luky and Craig Costello; and from surface and miscellaneous Paul Bentley and Gord Medwid.

USW staff representative Roy Leslie from Flin Flon, who is the USW’s newest staff representative in Northern Manitoba, is assisting the union side.

Leslie has been a Steelworker activist since 1974. He worked as a millwright for 30 years with Canadian Liquid Air. He was elected president of Local 6308 for five terms, until they amalgamated with Local 16506, which was larger with 50 bargaining units, and where he was elected vice-president. He is also is a graduate of a three-year labour studies program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

He was hired onto the staff of USW District 6, based in Toronto for Ontario and Atlantic Canada in 2002. District 6 is the largest of the United Steelworkers’ 13 districts, as measured by membership numbers with more than 74,000 active members and about 50,000 retirees. It covers Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

In 2004, Leslie transferred to USW District 3, based in Burnaby, B.C. There are over 40,000 Steelworkers in Western Canada, which includes the four western provinces and Northern territories that form District 3, which is geographically the largest district in the international union. In March 2007, Leslie transferred to the USW office in Flin Flon.

Vale’s Manitoba Operations management negotiating committee includes Warren Brass, manager of T1 Mine; Mark Scott, manager of the refinery, scheduled to close in 2015 after Vale’s Long Harbour refinery in Newfoundland opens in 2013 and feed from Voisey’s Bay is sent there rather than Thompson; Richard Ukrainetz, manager of maintenance; Marie Josee Castonguay, manager of human resources; and Greg Haley, manager of labour relations for Vale Base Metals, who is the lead negotiator in the Thompson talks for the company.

The management team is being assisted in their preparations and supported during negotiations by David Barnes, director of employee and industrial relations for Vale Base Metals; Milt Christiansen, a labour lawyer with the law firm Akins, MacAulay and Thorvaldsen LLP in Winnipeg; and Darin Kulbaski, business analyst for Manitoba smelting and refining in Thompson.

Thompson has the capacity to produce around 60,000 tonnes a year of refined nickel, according to Reuters Metal Production Database.