Ontario labour board says Vale violated Labour Relations Act

Mining giant must allow union VP access to company property

International mining company Vale Ltd. will have to post notices in all Ontario workplaces saying it violated the Ontario Labour Relations Act when it denied a union vice-president access to company property for the last 18 months.

"I think the message Vale Inco has sought to communicate is cold and hard (regardless of its precise motivations),” Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) Chair Bernard Fishbein wrote in his decision, “and I conclude that there has been a substantial interference both in the administration of the union and its representation of employees (or in the words of the Canada Labour Relations Board that have "the effect of undercutting or weakening the union").

Vale fired United Steelworkers (USW) vice-president Patrick Veinot during a year-long strike because it said he engaged in wrongdoing in connection with an alleged incident involving a strike replacement employee. Along with two other strikers, he was charged with criminal harassment and a trial was held early in 2011. All three were acquitted of the harassment charges.

Because Veinot remained a discharged employee after the strike subject to the complaint pending before the OLRB, Vale refused him entry on company property to engage in union business. Veinot assumed the vice-presidency following the strike.

In the ruling, the OLRB says by doing so, Vale interfered in the administration of a trade union and must cease and desist from continuing to do so.

"Patrick has become a living symbol of the union's strength,” said USW Canadian national director Ken Neumann. “We all hope that this decision is the beginning of a new era of working together."

The strike by 3,000 Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ont. Vale workers began in July 2009 and wasn’t resolved until July 2010. During the year-long strike, the USW accused Vale of bad faith bargaining and took issue with the company using staff from another USW local who were not on strike to resume partial production at some of its facilities.

Vale also took the union to court over a variety of alleged violent incidents on the picket lines.

The USW is still awaiting a decision by the OLRB on the fate of eight workers fired during the strike, including Veinot. It has asked the board to direct Vale to allow the discharges to be heard by an independent arbitrator who can reinstate the employees to employment if the company fails to establish proper cause for their discharges.

Vale has not commented on the decision.

Vale's Canadian operations include a refinery in Port Colborne; six nickel mines, a mill, a smelter and a refinery in Sudbury; a nickel-cobalt-copper mine in Voisey's Bay; and three nickel mines, a mill, a smelter and a refinery in Thompson, Man.

Latest stories