June 14, 2021 - No. 56
Miners' Strike at Vale in Sudbury
Miners' Strike Opposes Anti-Social,
• Sudbury Workers Stand Up for Future Generations!
- David Starbuck
• Vale Sudbury Workers Produce Enormous Social Wealth
Miners' Strike at Vale in Sudbury
Production and maintenance workers at the Sudbury facilities of the
mining giant Vale went on strike on June 1 after the workers, members
of United Steelworkers Local 6500, rejected a tentative agreement
reached between the union's bargaining committee and the company.
A negative feature of the rejected tentative offer was a demand to
terminate health benefits upon retirement for all employees hired on or
after June 1, 2021. This concession would mean no health benefits for
new hires, such as a drug plan, after working 30 years in the industry's
hazardous environment. This demand would split Local 6500,
pitting one section against another with the inevitable weakening of
their collective struggle in defence of the rights of all.
June 11, 2021. Clarabelle Mill picket line.
concessions in the rejected tentative agreement include the elimination
of coverage for over-the-counter drugs, increased co-payments from
workers for the existing drug plan, and an unacceptable wage offer of
just four per cent over the entire five year contract. At this time
price inflation is beginning to rise sharply. Local 6500 currently
has a cost of living adjustment in its contract. The wage is adjusted
to cost of living once a year, when it applies. June 1 this year was
the date the wages were to be adjusted $0.82 an hour and the adjustment
should take effect once the strike is over.
On June 13, Vale tabled a second contract offer that includes similar concessions with minimal changes.
second offer still proposes to eliminate the existing retiree health
and medical benefit plan for all future hires. The company is now
proposing to offer the future retirees a $1,000 "health-care savings
account," which would take away nearly 80 per cent of the coverage
currently provided to members under the existing plan. Coverage for
some medications and medical supplies would still be entirely
eliminated. Over-the-counter drug coverage for current workers is still
eliminated. Vale's new contract offer calls for one per cent annual
wage increases, plus cost of living adjustment when it applies.
union's bargaining committee is unanimously recommending that members
reject Vale's latest concessionary offer. This offer is being reviewed
by Local 6500 members today, June 14, followed by online voting on the
proposal this evening.
produce enormous quantities of economic value within a dangerous
environment, often resulting in injuries and poor health. To be
deprived of health benefits in retirement when they are most needed is
an intolerable attack on workers' right to live in dignity. This
concessionary demand is an assault on the conscience of the human
person declaring workers as disposable when they become old.
For Vale to attempt to split the miners based on when they were
hired is unconscionable and reveals its aim and practice as out of
touch with the modern reality of work. The rights of all at work and
throughout their lives are a concern of all and the very essence of
life. The fight for rights is a fight for life. This is clearly evident
in work such
as mining and refining.
The company wants these concessions to pad its self-serving aim of
maximum profit on the backs of workers and their community. It must not
pass! By their rejection of a concessionary contract and by launching
their strike the workers are making a clear statement opposing Vale's
attack and willingness to jeopardize their lives and those of
the coming generation. The deliberate attempt to break the fighting
unity of the collective of workers at Vale by attacking the rights of
future generations is despicable and must not pass!
Concessions are not solutions to the problems working people face or
those of the economy. Canadian workers across the country have
experience of the demands for concessions and anti-social cutbacks
which target the working people and make the rich richer.
All Out to Support USW Local 6500!
Our Security Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!
The Fight for Rights is the Fight for Life!
June 12, 2021. Rally in support of striking USW
Local 6500 miners.
Twenty-four hundred and fifty production and maintenance workers at
Vale SA's Sudbury nickel-copper mining operations launched a strike on
June 1. They rejected a tentative agreement recommended by the union
bargaining committee and went on strike. Of the 87 per cent of members
casting ballots, 70 per cent voted to reject the
The workers are members of the United Steelworkers Local 6500. The
Sudbury miners have more than a century long history of fighting for
the rights of the working class, including a one-year strike in
On June 13, Vale tabled a second offer that includes concessions
similar to those already rejected by the workers. The union is
unanimously recommending the rejection of the new offer.
While the tentative agreement had offered a wage increase of four
per cent over five years (0.5%, 0.5%, 1%, 1% and 1%) at a time when significant threats of price
inflation and a rise in the cost-of-living have become reality, the new
offer has a wage increase of five per cent over the five years (1 per cent
ratification, followed by 1 per cent each year). The U.S. reports
yearly price inflation has soared to five per cent calculated at the
end of May.
Vale posted a net company profit of U.S.$4.8 billion in 2020 and
with that offered in the tentative agreement a one-time payment to
workers of C$2,500 and a signing bonus of $3,500 in recognition of
"continued efforts during the last year" related to COVID-19. The new
offer eliminates the $2,500 one-time payment. Bonus payments
disconnected with continuing wages soon disappear and also do not go
to new hires.
Company Proposals for the Pension Plans
For those workers covered by a defined benefit pension plan, the
monthly minimum pre-65 years old benefit for workers with 30 or more
years of employment would go up from $3,750 to $3,800 per month as of
July 1, 2021 and to $3,850 per month as of July 1, 2024. The monthly
basic pension benefit per year of employment would
increase from $61 to $62 as of July 1, 2021 and to $63 as of July 1,
Those workers covered by a defined contribution pension plan would
have the opportunity for an additional voluntary contribution
(unmatched by the company) of one to nineteen per cent of regular base
wages effective January 1, 2022. The proposal also calls for automatic
enrollment of voluntary contributions to be initiated at six per cent
base wages for all new hires, which it says would "attract the
corresponding company matching contributions."
rejected tentative agreement also demanded several concessions from the
workers, especially for new hires. Very significant was the removal of
all retiree health benefits for new workers. In the new offer, the new hires would be eligible to participate in
a company paid Health Care Spending Account (HSA) to
which the company would contribute $1,000 per year commencing on the
date on which the employee retires from active employment. The company
would establish the terms and conditions of the HSA. In its response to
Vale's new offer, the union notes that the average benefit cost in 2020
per retiree was $4,700, almost five times what the
employer is now offering. It points out that drugs alone cost $3,500 on
average per retiree. Also, some costs are not eligible expenses under
the Health Care Spending Account, such as blood pressure monitors,
over-the-counter medications and supplements and vitamins.
The new offer also maintains the elimination of over-the-counter
drug coverage (except for life-sustaining medication) for all
employees. Other concessionary changes to health care benefits include
the addition of a mandatory generic drug rider, an increase of $4 per
prescription to the employee deductible, and a cap of $10 per
placed on the employer-paid dispensing fee.
Nick Larochelle, president of USW Local 6500, said that the nature
of hard rock mining exposes workers to toxic and hazardous substances,
leaving many workers with serious medical conditions in retirement.
"Eliminating post-retirement health benefits ... from workers who are
exposed to toxic and hazardous substances throughout their
careers and who often develop serious illnesses and medical conditions
in retirement" is not justified, he said. "The real solution is for
Vale to do the right thing and maintain these vital benefits for
everyone. It shouldn't be a race to the bottom."
Concessions Are Not Solutions!
Concessions lead to demands by the employers for more concessions
from the workers. The Sudbury Vale workers have already been forced to
accept a defined contribution pension plan for new hires after the
Canadian state, through a court injunction in 2009, allowed Vale to
bring in scabs to operate the plants when workers first rejected this
demand to split their ranks. Now Vale is demanding more concessions.
The Sudbury mine, mill, smelter and refinery workers employed by
Vale SA are entirely justified in rejecting the concessionary tentative
agreement and fighting for wages and working conditions acceptable to
themselves. The Sudbury workers are standing up for future generations
of Sudbury workers. Many of the workers come from
multi-generational mining families. Their fathers and grandfathers
worked in the mines and surface plants. They have lived through the
struggles of the past and see the need to make their own stand for
future generations, for their own sons and daughters. They are
especially justified in opposing two-tier contracts whereby new hires
under inferior conditions to those of existing workers.
Sudbury mine workers know that the mines containing the valuable nickel and other
ores located thousands of feet underground cannot be moved out of the
country. Their jobs, therefore, cannot be moved elsewhere as the global
owners of monopolies so callously threaten and do in the manufacturing
sector. If the Vale owners hope to extract the valuable
ore, they must reach an accommodation acceptable to the Sudbury Vale
No to Concessions!
Stand Up for Future Generations of Workers!
Over 75,000 Vale workers throughout the world
produce enormous quantities of iron ore, nickel and other minerals. In
Sudbury, around 4,000 Vale workers produce mainly nickel at five mines,
a mill, smelter and refinery along with production of copper, cobalt,
platinum group metals, gold and silver.
estimate that their production at the complex is bound to increase as
nickel and cobalt are important components in the making of batteries
for the expanding market for electric vehicles, bicycles and other
products. As an alloy with other metals, nickel is also necessary for
the production of jet turbine engines used in military and
civilian aircraft. The U.S. considers nickel and cobalt critical
strategic minerals for their war economy and demands a guaranteed
supply without concern for those who produce the product and live where
it is found. The Canadian ruling elite have long bowed down to the U.S.
and used the police powers of the state to attack the rights of Vale
workers such as the court injunction against their strike in 2009 that
allowed company scabs to enter the facilities and weaken the workers'
None of Vale's activities in the Sudbury area is geared towards
developing the natural resources so that the social wealth workers
produce becomes a mainstay in building a self-reliant all-sided economy
in the region and contributes to nation-building throughout Ontario and
Canada. The well-being of workers, their communities, the economy
and nation are not considerations of those in control and ownership of
Vale. The global oligarchs are bent on extracting the natural resources
to serve their voracious appetite for private profit, power and war
the decision of the Vale workers to go on strike for a collective
agreement acceptable to themselves, a company spokesperson said in a
press release, "(Vale) is committed to the long-term sustainability of
its base metals business and its Ontario operations." For the Vale
oligarchs, sustainability is achieved through attacking the human
factor, those who produce the base metals. For them sustainability is
not achieved through pouring produced wealth back into the city,
region, people and social and natural environment to sustain a vibrant
local economy and nation-building. The aim of those in control of Vale
is to rip and ship out the social product and wealth as maximum private
profit to fatten their already bloated bank accounts and for use in war
and attacking others considered competitors. Those in control of the
company view it and the social product as distinct or separate from the
human factor they employ and the needs of the Sudbury and Canadian
economy and people. The company views its base metals business
and sustainability from a very narrow viewpoint of maximum profit for
its global owners, who are mostly concerned with its quarterly reports
and price on the stock markets.
The demands for concessions and attacks on rights by those in
control and ownership of Vale and their aim divorced from the needs of
the people and nation-building are exactly what are unsustainable. A
new direction is necessary where the human factor, the local and
Canadian economy and the social and natural environment are the centre
of considerations. A new human-centred direction begins with the
rejection of the concessionary demands of the Vale oligarchs. Rejection
of those demands and coming to an arrangement acceptable to the workers
themselves opens a path to a new direction.
All Out to Support the Just Strike Struggle of the Vale Workers!
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