Fate of fired 9 [Vale union members] rests with panel – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – December 9, 2011)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

If Vale Ltd. is so confident it had good reason to dismiss eight Steelworkers during the union’s year-long strike, it shouldn’t be reluctant to let a provincial arbitrator determine if they were fired with just cause, says the union’s lawyer.

But Vale argues its confidence that the firings were justified demonstrates the care that company officials took to make those decisions. Those statements were presented during final arguments at an Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing into the union’s call for arbitration for its eight fired members.

More than a dozen days of testimony were held in Toronto into a bad-faith bargaining complaint filed by United Steelworkers at the six-month mark in their July 2009-July 2010 strike against the Brazil-based mining company.

The final six hours of arguments were presented to a three-member panel from the OLRB at the Holiday Inn on Thursday.

The panel will issue a written decision on the matter several weeks or even months from now.

Nine members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 were fired during the strike, and Vale has insisted ever since it had the right to do so because they violated the company’s code of conduct.

One Steelworker retired immediately afterward, but the lives and careers of the remaining eight have been hanging in the balance ever since.

Five of the fired eight — Patrick Veinot, Michael French, Jason Patterson, Ron Breault and Brian Miller — sat in the front row of an audience of about 100 spectators at the final day of hearings.

None of the fired Steelworkers attended earlier hearing dates because there was some question of whether they might be called as witnesses during the proceedings.

USW lawyer Brian Shell spoke for three hours, repeatedly stating that Vale had a duty to bargain in good faith.

The original complaint filed in January 2010 was that Vale was not negotiating with the union.

By the time the two sides resumed contract talks, most of the nine had been fired and their return to work became a stumbling block in talks to reach a new collective agreement.

Shell told the panel, headed by labour board vice-chair Ian Anderson, that all of eight workers want to return to their jobs.

Two are working with the union — Veinot as vice-president and Patterson as secretary- treasurer — but others have had to leave Sudbury to find jobs.

Each of the workers has “significant seniority,” said Shell, and each wishes to remain a part of the community.

He speculated each is likely to be reinstated when the board rules on the complaint.

Shell argued the union had met the company halfway by suggesting the firings go to arbitration instead of insisting dismissed workers return to the job with the rest of members when the strike was resolved.

Vale lawyer Barry Brown summed up the company’s earlier testimony that it was well within its rights to fire the workers.

Brown said Vale had “valid reasons … for taking the position it took.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3399545