On May 15, 2017, United Steelworkers Local 6166 President Les Ellsworth and Vice-President Gord Medwid were called to a meeting by Vale Manitoba Operations Vice-President Mark Scott and other senior management. At that meeting, the USW representatives were informed by Mark Scott that Birch Tree Mine would be put on care and maintenance by Oct. 1, 2017. Birch Tree Mine is one of three operating mines in the operation. The reasons that were given to put the mine on care and maintenance were stated as low metal prices, declining ore grades and a number of production issues.
At no time prior to this decision was the union informed that Vale Manitoba Operations would be making a presentation to corporate Vale to put Birch Tree Mine on care and maintenance. It came as a surprise and a huge disappointment that Vale management did not seek or ask for any input from the union as they had done in the past to potentially prevent this decision. This was strictly a Manitoba Operations management decision that was ultimately supported by corporate Vale in Toronto.
The union was informed that this decision could affect up to 120 of our members, 30 staff and 50 additional roles. The union has made it very clear that the collective bargaining agreement will be followed during the closure of the mine. We are in the process of setting up a joint committee to address the issues we are facing in regards to a possible layoff. It is currently the union’s position that no member of the union will be laid off if there are contractors on site. The union has been in ongoing discussions with Vale regarding the smelter and refinery surface plant closures scheduled for August 2018 and the process of transitioning the members from the surface plants into the mines. This announcement is expected to complicate that process so it is anticipated that the joint committee will have a large task ahead of them dealing with a number of concerns from the membership.
It is important to note that as of this writing we have had no contact from our MLA in regards to support from our provincial government.
We, as your union representatives, will do everything that we possibly can within our capabilities along with the CBA to encourage Vale to step up and offer retirement incentives to senior employees in order to mitigate any potential layoffs resulting from Vale’s decision.