Except for the fact that unions as a general rule are stubborn to the point of self-destruction, I would find stories like the following shocking.

Please consider Vale Inco employees in Sudbury finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

SUDBURY, Ont. – Striking Vale Inco employee Rod Price says he’s “lost everything,” and so have many of his colleagues.

“The banks are taking our houses, our vehicles. A lot of us are using the food bank, and as time goes on it’s getting worse,” Price said, his words coming as puffs of steam through the holes in his balaclava on a frigid day on the picket line.

“Guys are upset, hurt, crying. They don’t know what to do with themselves.”

More than 3,000 employees of nickel miner Vale Inco have been on strike since mid-July, and after seven months living off of $800 a month in strike pay, the repo man has come knocking.

“We’ve got people losing homes. We’ve got families breaking apart. We can’t make our payments,” said worker Pat Digby, braving a wind chill of -25C to picket at the front gate of Vale Inco’s smelter in the Sudbury neighbourhood of Copper Cliff.

Price said he and some of his colleagues have looked for work elsewhere to sustain them during the strike, but no one wants to hire them because they fear they’ll quit as soon as the labour dispute is resolved.

At issue are proposals by Vale Inco to reduce a bonus tied to the price of nickel and to exempt new employees from its defined-benefit pension plan, moving them instead to a defined-contribution plan.

Workers complain that they shouldn’t have to give concessions to a company whose parent, Brazil-based Vale S.A., earned US$5.35 billion in 2009. This frustration was exacerbated when the other major mining company with operations in the Sudbury area, Xstrata Nickel, reached a labour agreement with its workers recently without having to resort to a strike.

But [Vale spokesman Steve Ball] said Vale’s Sudbury operations – formerly owned by Inco before it was bought by Vale for $19 billion in 2006 – need to be profitable without the help of its parent company, otherwise they could be shut down. The cost of keeping up with increasingly stringent environmental regulations and maintaining aging infrastructure means the company needs all the help it can get to stay profitable, he added.

More than 3,000 employees at Vale’s mill, smelter, refinery and six nickel mines in the Sudbury area have been on strike for seven months, along with their counterparts at Vale’s Port Colborne, Ont., refinery. Workers at the company’s nickel-cobalt-copper mine in Voisey’s Bay, N.L. are also on strike, although the issues in that dispute are slightly different. For example, workers in Voisey’s Bay are already on a defined contribution pension plan.

Workers in Voisey’s Bay briefly resumed bargaining last month, but those talks broke down almost immediately. No talks have been scheduled in Sudbury or Port Colborne since the strike began.

3000 On Strike For What?

3000 employees are on strike on behalf of new workers, people they have not even met. The other issue is a bonus tied to the price of nickel.

Good grief.

The union wants the company to look at all profits not just the profitability of Vale. That is like expecting Applebees to keep throwing money at restaurants losing money because the corporation as a whole is profitable.

In the real world as opposed to union Fantasyland, each operation needs to stand or fall on its own merits. What the company makes overall is irrelevant.

To go back to work, all the union has to do is agree to reduce bonuses across the board and give up defined benefit plans for new workers. Instead, workers have lost their homes and cars, families have been destroyed, and union members are in tears.

Even if the company gave in now, those union workers will never gain back what they lost. The irony is the union brought this entirely upon its own members, and the longer the union foolishly strikes, the more lives will be destroyed.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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