Local 6500 bargaining committee recommends members reject new Vale offer

Vale has presented a new concessionary offer to striking Steelworkers Local 6500 members that the union’s bargaining committee is recommending be rejected.

On June 1, Local 6500 overwhelmingly rejected an initial contract offer, with 70 per cent of members voting against the offer on a voter turnout of 87 per cent.

The union’s bargaining committee is recommending to its 2,500 members that the new offer be rejected, too, saying it includes “similar take-aways with minimal improvements” over the initial offer.

Members will be voting on the new offer tomorrow (June 14).

“The union’s bargaining committee is unanimously recommending that members reject Vale’s latest concessionary offer,” the union said in a news release today.

Local 6500 president Nick Larochelle characterized the offer as one not made in good faith.

“Health and medical benefits and lack of recognition for our members’ value to the company remain crucial issues. Vale’s new offer does not adequately address these issues,” Larochelle said. “Vale knows it provoked this strike by demanding concessions, yet it continues to attack health benefits.

“We want to be clear – our members want to get back to work, but they expect a good-faith offer from Vale that respects their concerns.”

Vale’s second offer still proposes to eliminate the existing retiree health and medical benefit plan for all future hires, but nowtas the company is proposing to offer those future retirees a $1,000 “health-care savings account.” If accepted, the bargaining committee said this provision would result in members losing nearly 80 per cent of the coverage currently provided to members under the existing plan. Coverage for some medications and medical supplies would be entirely eliminated, the union said today.

“Vale wants to lower the standard of living for retirees in our community,” said USW staff representative Pascal Boucher. “In Canada, we believe we should look after one another, and that’s a concept this employer doesn’t seem to understand.

Larochelle said the nature of hard rock mining exposes workers to “toxic and hazardous substances,” leaving many workers with serious medical conditions in retirement. In exchange for the damage done to their bodies by the work, the company should reciprocate and ensure members have the benefits they need to stay healthy.

“Eliminating post-retirement health benefits from other staff is not a justification to take away these 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,” 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.”

The new offer, after accounting for cost-of-living adjustments, calls for one-per-cent annual wage increases, and little to nothing on pensions, Local 6500 said. Workers in the defined-benefit pension plan are offered a $100 increase in the pre-65 monthly benefit and a $2 increase on the basic pension by the end of the proposed five-year contract.

Vale offered no increase in its contributions to members enrolled in the defined-contribution pension plan, the union said.

Meanwhile, Local 6500 said, Vale is recording large profits for its shareholders.

“Vale’s financial reports indicate its shareholders were paid a whopping US$3.88 billion (CAN$4.7 billion) in dividends in the first three months of 2021 alone. Vale has paid shareholders total dividends of US$13.55 billion (approximately CAN$16.4 billion) since the signing of the previous long-term collective agreement between the company and USW Local 6500 in 2015.”

Local 6500 said Vale had stockpiled US$12.9 billion (CAN$15.6 billion) in cash by the end of March, even as taxpayers provided the company with $67.7 million in pandemic-related federal subsidies this year.

Larochelle said clearly Vale doesn’t need to force concessions on Sudbury workers.

“The company is provoking an unnecessary fight with its Sudbury workforce. Our members and the community understand that Vale doesn’t need concessions and that it can offer a better contract,” he said. “Times are good for Vale in Sudbury – very good – because our members have been producing tremendous wealth for the company. It is time Vale shows they care.”

His members have worked with the company and the company has benefited, Larochelle said. It’s time for Vale to do the same.

“In recent years and throughout the pandemic, our members have held up our end of the bargain. We’ve generated big profits for the company and the shareholders, we improved safety and we worked in good faith with management to cut costs in many areas,” Larochelle said.

“Our members expect Vale to actually demonstrate that they care for their existing and future workers – rather than offering empty words.”

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