Vale firings breached act: OLRB – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – February 25, 2012)

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

A provincial arbitrator will decide if the firings of eight Steelworkers during their yearlong strike against Vale Ltd. were justified after a ruling Friday by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The board directed arbitration of the men’s dismissals on a just cause standard more than two years after their union, United Steelworkers, filed a bad-faith bargaining complaint against the Brazil-based miner.

The original complaint was filed Jan. 13, 2010, at the six-month mark of a bitter strike by 3,400 USW members in Sudbury and Port Colborne.

The complaint changed during the two years from one about Vale refusing to collectively bargain to whether the firings of nine men during the strike should be sent to arbitration.

(One of the fired men retired at the end of the strike.)

A three-member panel of the board ruled that Vale’s position on the fired Steelworkers constituted a breach of a section of the Ontario Labour Relations Act, 1995.

That section provides that “the parties shall meet within 15 days from the giving of the notice or within such further period as the parties agree upon and they shall bargain in good faith and make every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement.”

In its 29-page decision, the panel concluded that by steadfastly refusing to send the men’s firings to arbitration, Vale’s position “was patently unreasonable.

“In maintaining that position to impasse, Vale was not making every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement. Accordingly, it breached section 17 of the Act,” said the panel.

The remedy prescribed by the panel is arbitration to decide if Vale had just cause to fire Steelworkers Ron Breault, Mike Courchesne, Adam Cowie, Dan Labelle, Mike French, Jason Patterson, Patrick Veinot and Brian Miller.

The labour board panel, chaired by Ian Anderson, had harsh words in its ruling for Vale’s John Pollesel, then vice-president of production, services and support, and general manager for Ontario operations of Vale. Pollesel is now chief operating officer for Vale’s Canada and UK operations.
The board said Vale’s position regarding the fired Steelworkers was “a result of Pollesel’s decision.”

Whether it was due to Pollesel’s “inexperience with collective bargaining or otherwise, we conclude that Pollesel adopted an intransigent position on an issue of fundamental significance to trade unions,” said the panel.

The board said that decision was “ultimately based on little more than belief and maintained without regard to the negotiations and what would reasonably have been required to make a collective agreement.”

The board’s decision was released about 3:30 p.m. The Sudbury Star contacted Vale for comment at 4 p.m. Just before 7 p.m., Vale spokeswoman Angie Robson said via email: “Vale’s team is currently in the process of reviewing the decision. We expect this will take some time to complete and until then we will not be in a position to comment on the decision or speculate on any actions we may take.”

In a news release, USW quoted the union’s international president, Leo Gerard.

“This ruling is another concrete example of Vale’s blatant disregard for workers’ rights, for our laws and for our country’s labour relations traditions and culture,” said Gerard.

The president of United Steelworkers Local 6500, Rick Bertrand, said his union — and especially the fired eight — were ecstatic about the unanimous decision.

It was difficult to know which direction the decision was going to go after eight days of hearings spread over two years, said Bertrand.

“Talking to the eight that were discharged, they’re very, very happy obviously because they’re the ones that are suffering this,” said Bertrand at the Steelworkers’ Hall late Friday afternoon.

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