'It's an excellent deal'
Barry Carswell was the one to break the news to his co-workers at 7:45 a.m. Feb. 1, when Mine Mill Local 598 and Xstrata Nickel inked a tentative deal.
The union's contract with the company had expired at midnight Jan. 31, but negotiations continued throughout the night.
The chief union steward at Nickel Rim South, who has worked at Xstrata Nickel and its predecessor, Falconbridge Limited, for 33 years, said he thought it was a “pretty special” moment.
“I called everybody into the conference room and made the call,” Carswell said. “I said 'We have a deal, and it's an excellent deal for everybody involved.' ”
The veteran miner was just one of hundreds of Xstrata Nickel workers who showed up at the Dowling Community Centre for Local 598's 1 p.m. ratification meeting. Another meeting will be held at 8 p.m.
Voting is taking place throughout the day Feb. 1, with the results expected to be released in the late evening.
Local 598 president Richard Paquin told Northern Life after the meeting that overall, his members seem happy with the deal.
A contract summary sheet provided by the union said the company came on hard with “numerous concessions,” including increasing the nickel bonus floor price and reducing personal days.
“We fought hard to keep them,” the union statement said. “Our membership has remained united throughout this journey and has to be commended for staying together.
“This allowed your bargaining committee to remain strong and firm on the main issues that our membership wanted addressed.”
One of the last sticking points for the two sides was the length of the contract, Paquin said. Xstrata Nickel wanted a five-year contract, whereas the union wanted a three-year contract, as has happened in the past.
In the end, they split down the middle, and agreed on a four-year contract, which expires Jan. 31, 2017.
“At 6:30 a.m. this morning we decided that four (years) is a good number, and we agreed to four,” Paquin said.
Other than the length of the contract, he said the union made no concessions. Paquin said the company also seems satisfied with the contract.
“We sort of worked out what we wanted from both sides, so I think both parties are happy with the results.”
The contract also includes a $3,000 signing bonus to all active employees, and an additional $1,000 in the third year of the contract.
There's a one-per-cent wage increase in each year of the agreement, as well as a $0.18 cost-of-living fold in from the previous contract, and cost of living rolled into wages yearly.
Added together, the wage and cost-of-living increases add up to roughly $3 more per hour for workers.
Paquin said another one of the sticking points in the negotiations was that the company didn't want to give the same cost of living increases to pensioners. However, the union was able to get them to relent on this issue.
There are also several other improvements in the contract, including a group life insurance increase from $55,000 to $60,000.
There's a long-term disability increase from $1,400 a month to $1,500 a month and a short-term disability increase from $625 a week to $650 a week.
As was negotiated in the 2010 contract, new hires have a choice between participating in the general pension plan, funded by the company, or the direct contribution pension plan, into which the employee contributes themselves.
Carswell said the deal is “really good for everybody involved.”
“There's a good increase for us,” he said. “We get the signing bonus upfront instead of a big wage increase over the four years, which is good, because you've got the money upfront, in your pocket.”