June 14, 2021 - No. 56

Miners' Strike at Vale in Sudbury

Miners' Strike Opposes Anti-Social,
Anti-Worker Concessions

Sudbury Workers Stand Up for Future Generations! - David Starbuck
Vale Sudbury Workers Produce Enormous Social Wealth

Miners' Strike at Vale in Sudbury

Miners' Strike Opposes Anti-Social,
Anti-Worker Concessions

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.

Other 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.

Vale's 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.

The 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.

Mineworkers 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!

(Photos: WF, USW6500)

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Sudbury Workers Stand Up for Future Generations!

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 tentative agreement.

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 2009-2010.

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 upon 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, 2024.

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 of base wages for all new hires, which it says would "attract the corresponding company matching contributions."

The 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 prescription 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 are employed 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 workers.

No to Concessions!
Stand Up for Future Generations of Workers!

(Photos: WF, USW6500)

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Vale Sudbury Workers Produce
Enormous Social Wealth

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.

Workers 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' struggle.

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 preparations.

Following 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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