Union waiting to see where changes at Vale operations in Thompson will take them

The pace of recent change at Vale’s Manitoba Operations – which has seen vice-president Mark Scott’s position eliminated, 127 hourly workers laid off and a new interim mines manager named all in the space of a couple of months – is dizzying for employees and the union that represents many of them.

“People have been moved to roles and they’re bringing people in so it’s one of the bigger changes they’ve done in Thompson in quite some time,” said United Steelworkers Local 6166 president Warren Luky on Aug. 27, in the wake of the company extending its summer maintenance shutdown and announcing Gary Annett as the temporary manager of mines in preparation for the retirement of 37-year employee Warren Brass this fall. “The union still hasn’t got all the information about what it looks like. We’re slowly getting some things down, who’s in charge and it’s going to be a challenge for us moving ahead, given that we’ve had a relationship with a local management team and basically we’re going to be dealing more with Sudbury operations personnel.”

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The uncertainty doesn’t come at a good time for union members.

“We are having a hard time with morale given we’ve had such considerable job loss – 127 people out,” Luky said. “We expect they’ll be announcing the next set of layoffs which will happen later in this year which will be another considerable hit for our members working in the mine and we want to be able to do that as respectfully as possible.”

That the maintenance shutdown had to be extended to improve safety practices and clean up underground is a result of Vale not investing as much as it should have in its local operations over the past couple of years.

“We worked a long time here under a considerable money crunch where development wasn’t done, we didn’t have capital money to work with and we’re now stuck with the fallout of that and it has affected the condition of the mine,” Luky said. “It’s unfortunately in a bit of a mess underground that needs to be straightened out and that’s what our members are involved with doing.”

As for what happens after Annett’s term as mines manager, Luky said he doesn’t know and he isn’t sure the company has made a decision either.

“We’re not sure who will be the future leader of the Manitoba Operations in the mines department once he exits that position so we are curiously waiting to see what happens,” he said. “We are getting small bits of information about how it’s unfolding as it is now. We’re trying to get a grip of who’s in charge of what so we know who we’re dealing with. We’ve had some discussions with [North Atlantic mining operations  director] Alistair Ross, we’ve had discussions with Gary [Annett] and we’re slowly engaging in that process with them but it’s still unfolding and they’re still trying to get a grip on what’s going on now and they’re working with some of their systems … to get things back on track to get the mine to the operating level that it should be at.”

USW Local 6166 hopes that a clearer picture of the future of Vale’s mining and milling operation in Thompson comes into view soon.

“We’re curious to see how it turns out because we don’t have a clear organizational chart from these guys yet and I’m anxiously awaiting one,” said Luky.

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