‘We made the best of a bad situation’
Steelworkers vote in temporary workforce at IOC
Ron Thomas says he doesn’t know what would’ve happened if the union voted differently on Feb. 2.
Thomas, president of the United Steelworkers local in Labrador city, refers to a vote the members took on extending a temporary workforce.
“A bunch of different things could have happened,” he told TC Media. “The company could have brought in contractors, hired other workers, honestly, I really don’t know.”
He said that fear of the unknown was probably one of the factors members weighed when they cast their ballot. Thomas said 69 per cent of the workers voted and it squeaked by with 53 per cent in favour of accepting the deal. IOC has had the temporary workforce in place for six months now and this extends that agreement until the end of the union contract in 2018.
The workers were brought in to alleviate the forced overtime union members were taking on to meet workforce demands. Thomas said in a past interview with TC Media the union has seen about 200 people leave in the last few years.
The agreement has a number of conditions, including all union members getting a chance to work before any temporary workers are called in, temporary workers getting no accrued security, and temporary workers not comprising more than 12.5 per cent of the total bargaining unit. In addition, the company has to hire 62 full-time workers in the year.
Thomas said those conditions weren’t there when negotiations started and he thinks they’ve done a good job of protecting the union.
“We had to make sure our people were protected,” he said. “We didn’t want people doing the same work and not getting the same benefits but we need to protect the union.”
The vote, if nothing else, shows a divided union. Thomas said there are arguments to be made on both sides, with plenty of valid points for and against the temporary workforce.
He said ultimately the vote shows workers are still distrustful of IOC, which has had a sour relationship with the union for years. IOC recently made some big changes at the top, with Clayton Walker being named the new CEO.
Thomas said it is too early to say what impact that change will have but so far, signs are good.
“He got rid of some of the people we had problems with other there,” Thomas said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
He said while they voted to accept the temporary workforce, it wasn’t something anyone in the union wanted.
“We made the best of a bad situation.”
United Steelworkers local president Ron Thomas said the close vote on the temporary workforce shows how far the company and union still have to go to repair the relationship.