Vale Inco Convicted of Unfair Labor Practice In Landmark Decision of Ontario Labour Relations Board
TORONTO, Dec. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — United Steelworkers (USW) won a major victory at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) against Vale mining company in a case stemming from their year-long strike. Sixteen months after the strike at Vale during which time Vale banned USW Local 6500 Vice President Patrick Veinot from its property and thereby denied membership access to him on company property, in a stinging rebuke to the company, the OLRB has found that Vale’s conduct is unlawful. The Board has ordered that the company cease and desist.
OLRB Chair Bernard Fishbein wrote: “I think the message Vale Inco has sought to communicate is cold and hard (regardless of its precise motivations) 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’).”
“Our membership welcomes the Vice President back to their workplaces to perform his duties on their behalf and so do I,” beamed Local 6500 President Rick Bertrand, a long time colleague and associate of Veinot. As Vice President, Veinot chairs the important Local 6500 grievance committee, meeting with grievors and union stewards on company property to work through the grievance procedure and enforce the collective agreement. “Controlling this company is no easy task,” added Bertrand, “but this union will ensure that the rights of its members are advanced and protected, whatever it takes.”
USW District 6 Director Wayne Fraser, a former Vale employee and a Sudbury Ontario local said: “Recovery from such a bitter strike is no easy task. Perhaps this decision is the beginning of the recovery process. The Board has made it quite clear: Vale’s post strike assault on the continuing determination and solidarity of our members will not be tolerated. The interference in the union’s administration must stop. This is a major victory that all right-thinking people will savor for a long time.”
USW Canadian National Director Ken Neumann congratulated Veinot, “Patrick has become a living symbol of the union’s strength. Like all discharged strikers, Patrick and his family have suffered at the hands of this autocratic employer hell bent on achieving its goals without regard to the interests of its employees. We all hope that this decision is the beginning of a new era of working together.”
Like eight others fired because of alleged strike-related conduct, Veinot was discharged from employment during the strike. The matter of the discharged strikers forms the core of a separate proceeding before the OLRB. “The USW eagerly awaits release of the decision on the company’s failure to make every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement – the bad faith bargaining complaint,” emphasized Neumann. In that case the union is asking the OLRB to direct that Vale 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.
Veinot was discharged from employment during the strike, when he held no union office. Vale 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. As the OLRB noted, “In the words of the trial judge, ‘there is insufficient evidence to link any or all of them with this allegation of criminal harassment.’”
Because Veinot remains a discharged employee subject to the complaint pending before the OLRB, Vale refused him entry on comp any property to engage in union business even though he assumed the Vice Presidency following the strike.
“We could not have asked for a better Christmas present,” Wes Dowsett, USW Area Co-ordinator said when he read the decision of the Board. “Not only can Patrick walk with his head high through the mines and mills of Vale and speak with our members, but all workers in Ontario – workers everywhere – benefit from the Board’s findings and rulings. You just cannot interfere with the work we do for our members. Our members have rights and so does the union. The tragedy is that Vale continues to challenge the union, everyday. Perhaps this decision will be a bit of a damper on their fire. I hope so.”
“As our history shows, the United Steelworkers will always stand up and fight back when its members and or its leaders are under attack. My main hope now is that Vale begins to learn the lesson that working people and their unions need to be treated fairly, and the law needs to be obeyed. Hopefully, today’s decision will cause Vale to start treating its workers with respect under the law,” added Leo W. Gerard, USW International President.
USW counsel Brian Shell said: “The prohibition against interference in the union’s administration has been a controversial provision for many decades. Its scope and breadth has never been fully appreciated. In this case the new Chair of the OLRB has moved the section to a higher plane and has applied the law in a plain and purposive manner to limit the imperial authority of a powerful employer’s practice of unilateralism. The decision reflects a Board willing to engage and intervene to set matters right. It is a welcomed change.”
The decision of OLRB is available on USW website at usw.ca (http://www.usw.ca/admin/workplace/vale/files/OLRB-Ruling-on-Vale-Violation.pdf)
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)