The fight between striking Steelworkers and Vale Inco has literally taken to the streets of Greater Sudbury.
Dozens of strikers set up what they call “back-to-work protests” and what Vale Inco calls blockades, at two company plants that have been operating during the union’s 10-month strike.
Members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 transferred their bitter disappointment with the failure of mediated talks in Toronto to produce an agreement this week to city-owned roads leading into Vale Inco’s Clarabelle Mill north of the city proper and Coleman Mine in Levack.
Rotating crews of 50 or more strikers and supporters set up camp at each entrance and say they will not leave until they get a contract from the nickel miner.
That wasn’t sitting well with Vale Inco, whose spokesman Steve Ball said late Friday afternoon that the company was determined to go ahead and operate its business.
Vale Inco intends to take “all necessary action” to get access to and from its plants, said Ball. Its legal team is looking at what action it can take to regain entry to its facilities and deciding how to deal legally with the organizers behind what Ball called “premeditated” blockades.
About 3,000 members of United Steelworkers Local 6500 in Sudbury and 130 members of USW Local 6200 in Port Colborne have been off the job since July 13 over the issues of pensions, the nickel bonus, seniority transfer rights and contracting out.
Another possible deal-breaking issue has emerged in recent months — the rehiring of at least nine strikers fired for alleged misbehaviour on picket lines and in the community during the bitter labour dispute.
The mood among protesters at both locations Friday was congenial, but determined as protesters marched and stood talking under the watchful eye of uniformed officers with Greater Sudbury Police Service, Vale Inco plant protection officers and AFI security guards, hired by Vale Inco during the strike.
Protesters were not letting ore trucks or other vehicles into either operation and few drivers even attempted to get through.
Sheriffs also visited both picket sites and reminded protesters of the conditions of injunction orders imposed by the courts at Vale’s request as did police officers.
The injunction limits the number of picketers at each Vale entrance to eight, but those present on the lines insisted they were not on Vale property and that they were protesting not picketing.
There were visible signs that strikers are serious about preventing replacement workers, staff and managers from entering plant gates to do their jobs. Portable toilets have been delivered to both sites, buses are running at regular hours from the union’s Brady Street hall, barbecues were delivered and fired up for hot meals and a bus containing boxes of sand-w iches and cases of bottled water stopped at both sites.
In Levack, at the Bistro on Levack Drive, hot coffee was being provided free to strikers courtesy of owner Maurice Lamoureux, a former Sudbury mayor and councillor.
Ball insisted the blockades were planned, but some strikers complained about the chaos that ensued after word was received Thursday night that mediator Kevin Burkett had adjourned talks between USW and Vale Inco, saying he was unable to find a “pathway” toward resolution of the strike.
Vale Inco issued a news release Friday saying the company had had “comprehensive discussions with the USW on the outstanding issues, and presented the union with a detailed plan to return employees to work.”
Both parties returned to the bargaining table April 26 “for the purpose of trying to settle the strike,” said Vale Inco spokesman Steve Ball.