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Strike is over: Local 6500 members vote 85% to ratify new deal

Deal includes wage increases of 6 per cent over five years, maintaining post-retirement benefits for new hires 
United Steelworkers Local 6500 members on the picket line at the entrance to Clarabelle Mill on Tuesday, June 1.

Steelworkers Local 6500 members voted 85 per cent in favour of a new deal with Vale, ending a strike that began June 1.

Vale announced the deal on its website late last night. Local 6500 members reviewed the deal yesterday and voted last night on whether to accept it.

The new agreement takes effect immediately.

Dino Otranto, Vale’s chief operating officer for its North Atlantic Operations, said the company was pleased an agreement had been reached.

"The past two months have been challenging for everyone," Otranto said in a news release. "We are pleased that the company and the union were able to find common ground and a path forward. We look forward to welcoming everyone. Our task now is to position our business to thrive today and for generations to come. We have many opportunities ahead of us, with the growing electric vehicle market. 

“The nickel, copper and cobalt we produce are critical metals to achieving a low carbon future. What we produce, and how we produce it, matters and our collective success going forward will require collaboration to make this business successful for us all. I’m confident that together, we will find our way."

The company said employees return to work the week of Aug. 9, with production ramping up in the weeks ahead.

The agreement ensures wage increases of six per cent over five years and maintains post-retirement benefits for new hires, one of the key sticking points that led to the strike.

The new five-year tentative agreement comes with a $2,500 recognition payment in recognition for efforts during the pandemic, to be paid this month.

It also comes with a $3,500 signing bonus, to be paid in September.

Wages will increase by a minimum of six per cent over the five year contract, with 1.5 per cent in the first year, plus an 82-cent cost-of-living allowance. Wages will increase by one per cent plus a 41-cent cost-of-living allowance in the second year, another one per cent plus a 41-cent cost-of-living allowance in the third year, another one per cent plus a 41-cent cost-of-living allowance in the fourth year, and another 1.5 per cent plus a 41-cent cost-of-living allowance in the fifth year.

Throughout the duration of the strike, many members said they were fighting for the future, as the Vale wanted to ax post-retirement benefits for all future hires. The union and the company have agreed to keep those benefits in place. Furthermore, over-the-counter drug coverage is being maintained.

The nearly 2,500 Local 6500 members hit the picket line June 1 after rejecting the first contract offer, which the union’s bargaining committee recommended workers accept. On June 14, members rejected a second contract offer

In mid-July, a third-party facilitator was brought in to help with negotiations. 

At the time, Local 6500 vice-president Kevin Boyd said the mood among the 2,500 members on the picket line is one of optimism on news negotiators had returned to the table.

“We could not have reached this settlement without your incredible support and principled stand you took throughout this difficult process,” said the bargaining committee in a message to members. We believe this tentative agreement is worthy of your USW Local 6500 solidarity and values, and we are unanimously recommending ratification.”