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Vale mining for alternatives in wake of CP strike

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | May 24, 2012 - 1:42 PM |
David Zanon, conductor CP Rail sits in a chair during the strike. Photo By Marg Seregelyi.

David Zanon, conductor CP Rail sits in a chair during the strike. Photo By Marg Seregelyi.

Company, union back at the bargaining table

The strike by Canadian Pacific Railroad workers is forcing Vale to make alternative transport arrangements for nickel mined at the company's Sudbury operations, the company's vice-president of corporate affairs said.

Cory McPhee told Northern Life that the strike is affecting operations in Sudbury and in Thompson, Manitoba. He explained Vale uses CP to move nickel concentrate from its Voisy's Bay operation to Sudbury and Thompson for processing. Finished product is then transported, again on CP lines, to ports in Montreal and Vancouver for shipping.

"This is a critical part of our supply chain,” McPhee said. “There are contingencies in place, but it's not the normal course of doing business, so we would like to see a resolution to this strike as soon as possible.”

Those contingencies include using other rail suppliers and trucks to move material.

“We would like to see a resolution quickly, but obviously that's out of our control,” McPhee said.

Meanwhile, in a media release, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) said May 23 that the CP rail strike will have a significant economic impact on mining communities, urging the federal government to take immediate action to resolve the labour dispute.

“A strike by CP workers will have a serious effect on the industry,” Pierre Gratton, MAC’s president and CEO, said. “The shipment of fuel and other supplies to mine sites will be compromised as is the transport of mineral products.”

MAC said in the same release that the strike will cause a shortfall of essential fuel and supply shipments to mines across Canada, and also prevent mines from delivering their products to their destinations, seriously and adversely affecting the industry's ability to operate at any functional capacity.

According to MAC, the Canadian mining industry accounts for more than 50 per cent of the freight revenues of Canada’s rail system yearly.

The strike captain of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Local 308 in Sudbury said the union did not want to hit the picket lines, but after three months of negotiations, and no headway, it was the only option left.

“We've been bargaining, but there's just no give on the company's side,” Scott Graham said May 24.

The “big issues,” he said, are safety and proposed pension capping.

Currently, workers are not required to work more than 10-hour shifts, but CP would like to see that changed so workers can be on the job longer.

“It's fatigue management. They want us to work 12-hour shifts, but with rail safety, and it's all about safety, we figure that's too long,” Graham said.

As for pensions, as it stands a retiring railroader can retire with a pension of between $70- and $80,000 a year, he said. CP, which matches employees' pension contributions, wants to cap that at $60,000 a year, a 40-per-cent reduction.

The union's contract expired on Jan. 1, 2012, Graham said.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said the two parties returned to the bargaining table on May 24.

The economic impact of a prolonged work stoppage is such that federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has said she is ready to introduce back-to-work legislation as early as May 28.

Posted by Arron Pickard

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