Vale interferes: Union prez – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – September 19, 2011)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper. cmulligan@thesudburystar.com

The president of United Steelworkers Local 6500 says Vale Ltd. is interfering in the union’s investigation into the June 8 deaths of two members at Stobie Mine.

Jason Chenier, 35, and Jordan Fram, 26, were working at the mine’s 3,000-foot level about 10:30 p.m. when they were struck and killed by a run of broken rock and water.

In the past, the union and the former company owner, Inco, conducted joint investigations into mining deaths. But Local 6500 and Vale were unable to agree from the outset about this investigation, so each is conducting its own.

Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand accused Vale of interference because it recalled to work two of five members of the union investigation team.

Vale was paying the wages of five production and maintenance workers involved in the union investigation, as was agreed upon, but recalled two of them a couple of weeks ago, said Bertrand.

At issue is the length of time it is taking the union to complete its investigation.

Bertrand said Vale has been pressuring the union to give a timeline, but that’s a question Local 6500 cannot answer.

“We don’t have a timeframe. What we’re concentrating on is to find out the result, find out what happened that killed two of our members. And that’s what we need to know.

“So we can’t put a time on that because we turn around and ask them, ‘Well, how much time do you need?’ We don’t get an answer.”

Vale spokeswoman Angie Robson said when the union began its investigation, Vale made arrangements to release all of the individuals selected to be part of the investigation team.

That was despite the fact relieving two members of their duties was “problematic from a resourcing perspective,” said Robson in an email.
Vale agreed to a union request for a 30-day extension to their investigation, then agreed to another extension for all but the two workers.

“Despite repeated requests, the union has provided no indication about when their investigation might conclude, or how long they expect the investigation team to be released from their duties, which would enable us to at least consider their request,” said Robson.

“It’s not reasonable for us to have our employees away from work for an undefined period of time, particularly the two roles at issue, which have a direct connection to safety and the environment.”

This week, in answer to a question from the media, Vale Canada chief executive officer Tito Martins said Vale had completed its investigation into the men’s death, although he couldn’t discuss details of it.

Robson later clarified that while Vale’s team has concluded its investigation, it is still compiling the results and recommendations.

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