Steelworkers gathering support for mining inquiry – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – June 21, 2012)

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

The Ontario legislature has adjourned, but United Steelworkers Local 6500 and their supporters intend to keep the pressure on the province to call a mining inquiry.

Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand said Wednesday that more than 2,500 postcards calling for the probe were signed June 8 at the gates of Vale Ltd.’s Sudbury mines and surface plants. The date marked the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, at Vale’s Stobie Mine.

An exhaustive investigation conducted by USW into the men’s deaths resulted in a 200- page report with 165 recommendations, three of them key to preventing future mining tragedies, the union says. One is the call for a public inquiry into the causes of the deaths and into underground safety generally, particularly as it relates to water management.

The last mining inquiry in Ontario was conducted more than 30 years ago, led by well-known labour relations expert Kevin Burkett. Coincidentally, Burkett was the mediator who helped broker the agreement two years ago ending the year-l ong strike against Vale by Steelworkers in Sudbury and Port Colborne.

The union also calls in its report for the Labour ministry to establish a committee to review the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and its enforcement, to ensure the safety of employees in the mining industry.

A spokesman for Jeffrey, Greg Dennis, said Wednesday that 834 signed postcards have been received at the minister’s Queen`s Park office.

Bertrand and Sudbury community leader Gerry Lougheed Jr. insist at least 10,000 postcards have been distributed in the city and beyond.

Bertrand said his union may  deliver the 2,500 -plus postcards in person to Jeffrey. It is asking for a meeting with the minister to discuss the need for an inquiry.

Jeffrey will be in Sudbury later this week to attend the Ontario Liberal Party Provincial Council at Laurentian University.

Lougheed said in late May that he expected Jeffrey might announce an inquiry after the first anniversary of Chenier’s and Fram’s deaths. Lougheed was the originator of the postcard campaign.

The families of the two men have joined the call for the inquiry, as has city council, which unanimously passed a motion several weeks ago for the mining probe.

The Labour ministry has laid nine charges against Vale and six against one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The ministry alleges the company and the employee didn`t take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of Chenier and Fram. The company and the employee will make their first appearance in provincial court in August.

Fram and Chenier were killed by a run of 350 tons of muck while working at the 3,000-foot level of the mine. Chenier, who was a non-union staff member for six months before his death, had informed his superior just a day or two before he was killed about his concerns with the amount of water flooding the mine.

A third Vale miner, Stephen Perry, 47, died Jan. 29 while operating heavy equipment at Vale’s Levack Mine. That prompted company officials to order a safety pause while Vale and the union reviewed safety policies and procedures.

Vale and USW conducted separate investigations into the Stobie deaths, but are collaborating on the investigation into development miner Perry’s death.

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