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Week seven of strike at IOC in Labrador West, no end in sight

Newest Steelworkers picket line at Sandy Point in Labrador City. Rail lines can be seen in the distance.
Newest Steelworkers picket line at Sandy Point in Labrador City. Rail lines can be seen in the distance. - Photo by Mike Power

Union says replacement workers are being used. Company says not so.

As week seven of the strike at the Iron ore Company of Canada comes to an end, many people thought by now the dispute would be resolved.

Historically, past labour disputes have been resolved by the fifth or seventh week of job action. As of press time there seems no sign of an end.

In a recent conversation with Ron Thomas, President of local 5795 of the Steelworkers, he told the Aurora “the ball is now in the company’s court.”

The union workers rejected the last company’s offer, and one of the biggest issues was with what was originally called temporary workers. In the last proposal terminology was changed, but many workers considered it the same thing with a different name. However, the company did make changes, including certain benefits that weren’t there before.

IOC recently released a document to workers in which it says the company’s offer is a fair one, and they draw comparisons to other mining companies in nearby Mount Wright and Bloom Lake, as well as Voisey’s Bay.


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In the comparison document, IOC says wage increase comparisons are:

IOC ­‑ 2018-23, 2.4 per cent increase

Mount Wright - 2017-21, 2.4 per cent increase

Voisey‘s Bay - 2016-19, 3 per cent increase

Bloom Lake 2017-2020 , 2.9 per cent increase

Wages for 2018, compared:

Operators:

IOC - $42.03/hr

Mount Wright - $38.44/hr

Voisey’s Bay - $33.30/hr

Bloom Lake- $35.34/hr

Electricians:

IOC - $47.51/hr

Mount Wright - $45.77/hr

Voisey’s Bay - $35.48/hr

Bloom Lake  - $41.44/hr

The company also showed items such as probation and layoff terms.

Despite the information in black and white many union workers who spoke with the Aurora said they are worried about the 48 hour minimum notice for layoffs. Some feel it’s a way to lay off and hire workers easily, which they worry will lead to more temporary workers, as permanent workers retire or leave.

“The permanent work force is important for a stable workforce, it is the backbone of any company,” Heather Bruce-Veitch, the Director of Communications and external relations for IOC, told the Aurora. “What we want is to have the ability to bring in workers when there is an excess of work for short periods of time, the way the post office or a school would do. Hiring summer students in the past was a way to deal with the issue when so many people wanted to be able to take summer vacation that was an example of something that worked. We want to be able achieve two things. Improve productivity, and have flexibility with the workforce, something we think is in our last offer and one that is fair for both sides.”

Meanwhile Thomas says his members are as determined as ever to stay out until they have an agreement. He says there is no let down of the community support of the striking workers.

Speaking of community support, Thomas says he is disappointed to see IOC suspend their community support programs.

“The fight is with the union, not with the community,” he said.

Replacement workers

As the strike continues on, one major development has raised its head. The issue of replacement workers.

Recently NDP MHA Gerry Rogers raised the issue in the House of Assembly. Rogers called on the government to amend the Labour Relations Act to pass anti-replacement worker legislation.

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Al Hawkins suggested the best settlement is a negotiated settlement, and reminded the House he represents both employers and employees.

Rogers again insisted that it is time for anti-scab legislation in this province.

The full exchange can be found at Hansard.

With that issue raised, there were more and more reports from union members they believed that replacement workers were being used at IOC. There were reports that additional staff was hired, that certain companies were doing work that is union work, even that workers were taken into company sites by various ways of transportation, including helicopter .The union stands by these allegations and say they have proof these things are happening.

In addition to the concern about the replacement workers, peaceful demonstrations were held by union workers near the Wabush Airport, where it was believed replacement workers were arriving, and at some local businesses who the union believed were doing work at IOC they shouldn’t be doing.

The Aurora asked IOC about the reports in the House of Assembly and by the union about replacement workers.

Heather Bruce-Veitch told the Aurora they are not using replacement workers to do union work.

“There is engineering work being done for the eventuality of a return to work, helicopters are used for aerial checks and security. Staff workers are there for asset protection and this week we have assured our provincial government that no replacement workers are being used.”

As the weeks go on in this strike the accusations and denials continue and authenticating claims or counter claims can be a monumental task.

However one thing is for certain, as the weeks pass by without a resolution, there is a definite change of mood throughout the community. In the early days of the strike there was a thought that this will be over soon, as the weeks rolls along there is more of concern that this may last even longer than ever anticipated.

The latest worry this week is that IOC may try to move ore. That prompted an additional picket line near Sandy Point just outside Labrador City where trains come and go. Thomas confirmed to the Aurora the newest picket line is to see if ore will be attempted to be moved out, and to see if people will be brought in.

Bruce-Veitch said company has no intention of moving ore.

Community concerned

In another development this week, there is a growing concern in the communities in Labrador West.

The Labrador West Chamber of Commerce has written both sides in the dispute to make an attempt to get back to negotiations. Chamber President Toby Leon said that revenues are down, people are being laid off, it’s causing concern for businesses, workers, and the community in general.

“I have been in constant touch with both sides in this dispute, encouraging them to find a way to get back to negotiations, and to find a solution that will be fair for all concerned,” MHA for Labrador West, Graham Letto, told the Aurora.

As another Labrador West Business person told the Aurora in a related article, “As we approach the two month mark in this dispute, we reach the critical level, after that many people will have to make tough choices, of laying off employees, cutting hours, and for some leaving to find work elsewhere.”

It appears the next short while will be critical to the communities of Labrador West.

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