127 workers laid off July 31 as Thompson smelter and refinery shut down permanently

34 layoffs rescinded until Dec. 31 and no job losses in September as previously expected

The union that represents workers laid off from Vale’s now-shuttered smelter and refinery isn’t happy with the company even though some of its members have five months’ more employment there than they thought they were going to.

One-hundred-and-twenty-seven workers were laid off July 31, the official closing date of the smelter and refinery, though operations actually wound down weeks ago following the completion of the company’s concentrate load-out facility. That was fewer layoffs than previously anticipated, as 169 layoff notices were sent out in April, though there were still more than 100 workers with buyout offers they hadn’t decided whether to accept or reject at that time.

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“Thirty-four [of those notices] were rescinded and will be affected in the next adjustment phase, with an effective date of Dec. 31,” Vale Manitoba Operations manager of corporate affairs, organizational design and human resources Ryan Land told the Thompson Citizen July 30.

The good news is that a round of layoffs expected in September will not occur so the next big job loss won’t be until the end of this year.

“There was a notice that was supposed to go out for a September layoff so they’re not laying off in September,” said United Steelworkers Local 6166 president Warren Luky.

Despite 34 workers now having employment until the end of the year, Luky says there is a great deal of frustration with how Vale handled notifying workers whose layoffs were rescinded.

“We’ve taken a lot of calls from frustrated workers who were told, in no uncertain terms … they’re going to be laid off July 3,” said Luky. “We’ve got some people, they’ve moved on, they’re with their families somewhere else and they get this letter saying, no, you’ve got to come back to work, so they’re not happy. They have to make a choice to come back without their family or with their family for a few more months’ work and then be laid off with certainty down the road.”

Furthermore, those who don’t come back will lose out financially.

“If they don’t come back, then they forgo their severance package which some of them, most people, would really count on, so it’s been bittersweet for some people,” the union president says. “Some people were quite glad to get their rescind letters. Some people were not so glad to get their rescind letter because they’ve got jobs somewhere else already and so they lose the ability to get that severance package, which is quite frustrating for them because they know they’re going to get laid off anyways.”

The latest job losses, combined with 94 hourly workers who took buyout packages and another 60 who lost their jobs when Vale placed Birchtree Mine on care and maintenance in  October 2017, mean there are now about 700 USW workers employed by Vale, down from about 830 before July 31, since others have quit or retired before their jobs get eliminated.

“Some of those people aren’t coming back,” said Luky. “They’ve got people quitting on them today because they were supposed to come back and they’re not going to. They’ve moved on.”

Now that the layoffs have taken place, Luky says there may be a trickle-down effect.

“As these layoffs happen there’s other layoffs that come for other parts of the industry,” Luky said.

Manitoba Operations are now producing nickel concentrate to be shipped out to Ontario via Winnipeg for processing, said Land, with asset retirement work underway in the smelter and refinery to prepare for the decommissioning of both plants.

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