Nearly half of unionized Vale workers in Thompson could be affected by Manitoba Operations review

Nearly half of the unionized hourly workforce at Vale’s Manitoba Operations could be affected by the company’s comprehensive review, either by being transferred to other positions or laid off.

Choice cards were distributed to 250 of the 538 United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6166 members at the mine from T1, T3 and the mill/concentrator. One choice card is for intra-departmental transfers and another is for inter-departmental transfers.

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“All these people who would be affected [by operational changes coming out of the company’s review], who would either be laid off or affected, received choice cards to indicate where they want to go within the department they’re in or into wherever they could go within the division,” says USW Local 6166 president Warren Luky.

Based on their qualifications and seniority, workers can transfer into other jobs within their department or into jobs in other departments.

“Once they’re out of their department, they go onto this other list, then they can bump back into the other areas if they can,” Luky says. If they can’t, they stay on that inter-departmental list and, when there’s no more positions, the people left will be laid off.

Although that process has begun, workers don’t know how many people Vale intends to lay off, though non-unionized staff positions are also believed to be on the chopping block.

“We’re told that hourly will be laid off and staff will be laid off,” said Luky. “People are on pins and needles and very anxiously awaiting their fate and I believe they’ll know by the end of the month where they lie with the company. That’s what Vale indicated to us.”

In a statement emailed to the Thompson Citizen, Tara Ritchie of Vale Manitoba Operations said that company and the union are participating in a joint workforce adjustment committee with the provincial government in an effort to assist affected hourly and salaried employees through the process.

“The hourly workforce adjustment is a complex process that takes into consideration several factors including seniority, qualification(s), occupation, training time per occupation, individual skills, ability, and knowledge,” said Ritchie. “In addition, operational safety and efficiency are also considered when making changes.  Throughout this process, we have considered every option to help mitigate job reductions, including a voluntary retirement incentive program, which was positively received. We are working to implement the new organizational structure by November. No further details will be available until that time.”

At the same time that the company is looking to lay off workers, it is also looking to hire new maintenance and production supervisors for its leadership team, according to an Oct. 1 human resources bulletin, and Luky says there are contractors on site doing work that the union believes its members could be doing.

“The collective bargaining agreement speaks to contractors, the company and union’s commitment to reduce contracting out,” Luky says.

Ironically, leaders of Vale’s North Atlantic division were in Thompson for meetings the same day that a contractor knocked out electricity to T1 and T3 mines, prompting evacuations until power was restored.

While Vale is looking to further scale back its Manitoba Operations, which already saw the workforce reduced by about a third due to the smelter and refinery being shut down forever in 2018 and Birchtree Mine being placed into care and maintenance status the previous year, the head of the company’s base metals unit told Reuters in early October that it was in talks with Tesla and other companies involved in the electric vehicle industry about securing nickel from Canadian operations in Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland. There is also discussion about the potential to store carbon in tailings in Thompson.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton said in an Oct. 2 press release that Vale should reconsider its plans to cut jobs in Thompson.

“This is a time of great insecurity for Thompsonites, as we have already been hit by job losses and reductions,” Ashton said. “This is not the time to be laying people off.”

She also said that the latest moves to cut jobs are part of a trend that began when Vale bought Inco.

“When Vale bought out Inco, it committed to expanding its operations, not gutting them,” said Ashton. “Despite the significant support it received from the Canadian government, the Manitoba government and Canadians, Vale has cut its operations in our province. Vale has eliminated hundreds of good jobs in our community. It has pulled out of critical supports in our community. It has restricted future opportunities and pension benefits for young people and families in our region.”

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