USW Local 6166

Press Releases

On August 28, 2017, I received a call from Mark Scott, Vice-President, Manitoba Operations requesting a meeting between USW Local 6166 Executive and Vale Manitoba Operations Management Team. We met as an executive with Vale and received an update from Mark Scott on the state of affairs in the Manitoba Operations. We were informed that the new CEO of Vale undertook a 60 day review across the whole Company. In the presentations there was a number of possible scenarios presented for the Manitoba Operations. We were informed that Nickel prices are at an all-time low and it has stayed low for the longest period in the Nickel Industry history. We were also told that Manitoba Operations will have to stand on its own in all levels of Nickel prices. The current forecast is that Manitoba Operations will have a loss of 50 million dollars this year. The Operation has many challenges ahead to keep cost down and increase productivity in order to sustain the business in the years ahead.


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June 12 2017 BT Update

June 12 2017 Press Release

USW 6166 Press Release re: Update on Birchtree Closure

Since the news release of the Birchtree closure, a number of our executive, full-time Union activists and your President have being meeting with Vale’s top and middle management personnel on a regular basis. We have made a request to all of our activists not to be a part of the rumour mill, but to talk to our members and direct them to the President, Vice-President, (Gord Medwid) and Conflict resolution coordinator, (Scott Clements) to get accurate information regarding the closure.

Scott Clements and Gord Medwid have met with the Company in a number of meetings to discuss the process outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to deal with the movement of people across the Manitoba Division affected by the Birchtree closure. At this time we continue to meet with Vale to work out this process in detail.

On June 09, 2017, we signed a number of LOA’s (Letter of Agreements) that will have Vale offer incentives for our senior members to consider for retirement. Vale will send out a question/answer document no later than June 13, 2017 that will hopefully answer some of the questions people may still have.
We continue to meet with Vale in regards to Contractors and have made it very clear that our members should not be facing a layoff while they have Contractors on site in the Manitoba Operations. There are a numbers of jobs that we know our members have the skill set to do which can replace contractors currently working at Vale.

We are meeting with our MLA, Kelly Bindle, on Friday June 16, and we are hoping to receive news of some assistance from the Government in regards to the initiatives we have put forward on May 26, 2017.

In the last two weeks we have had a number of serious incidents/accidents across the Manitoba Operations that have caused us some serious concerns. We know that a lot of people are thinking about their future with Vale, but let us assure you that we are doing everything we can to get you the information that personally affects you. We cannot emphasize enough that we all must try to keep our minds focused on every task that we carry out, either at home and work, to ensure the well-being for you and your families who depend upon you coming home every day. If things are not being done properly or the employer is not ensuring the workplace is safe, then exercise your right to refuse and don’t do the work until it is made safe!

Please keep up to date by visiting our web site or signing up to the Text Messaging platform we have set up to keep you informed.

We will continue to update the membership when we receive information from Vale or our three levels of Government.

May 28 2017 Press Release

USW Local 6166 Press Release

Since our last update we have had a number of meetings concerning the Birchtree closure and the Refiner/Smelter closures with several groups.

We have had several meetings with Manitoba Operations Management team to discuss incentives that are currently in the CBA and to consider including additional incentives for the Birchtree closure. We are expecting to have more to report on in the near future. There is a tremendous effort going on and we are doing everything we can to reduce or eliminate any layoffs of our membership by the Birchtree closure on October 01, 2017.

We have now appointed a USW committee to meet with Vale Management, who also has appointed individuals to review all language in the CBA. This is to ensure that we are following the correct process to integrate our members into the rest of the Manitoba Operations from Birchtree as well as the surface plants. 

On May 26, Vice-President Gord Medwid and I along with Mayor Fenske and Councillor Penny Byer met with Manitoba Provincial Government Minister Cliff Cullen of Growth, Enterprise and Trade. We presented our independent requests for help in Thompson with the recent Birchtree closure announcement. In that meeting the Government has initially stated that they want to help Thompson and the North but did not provide a lot of details as to any specifics. We have requested a response sooner rather than later from the Government as to what that help will be in order to deal with the many issues that we are faced with as a Union and City. 

We are also going to be meeting with Conner Spollen, the Chief Operating Officer for Base Metals in Canada and U.K. on June 1st in Winnipeg. We are prepared to discuss the recent events in Thompson and are expecting to get support from him on a number of initiatives we are working on locally and need to improve on at a corporate level.

We know people are anxious to know what the future looks for them and their families. We are constantly in committee work and meeting with many stakeholders in order to get the best possible results for everyone. Please keep your mind on your work and work safely. We would really like to be able to visit all crews in the plant that have questions about this, but at this time it is literally impossible with the amount of time spent in meetings and on committee work. We will continue to update you as we move forward.

May 19, 2017 Press Release

 USW 6166 Press Release re: Update on Birchtree Closure

On May 16, 2017, Vice-President Gord Medwid and I attended Birchtree to meet with members having any concerns. We also met with the Mine Manager to ensure that our members are treated with respect and dignity. We were not invited to any of the crew meetings in the Manitoba Division, nor did we know the times that they were taking place. I understand that some of our members were upset because there was no union representation at the meetings. I take full responsibility for this, if I knew the times of the meetings, I would have assigned people to represent us despite very few answers at this time and a lot of unanswered questions.

I have personally done over a dozen interviews with the media including the press release that went out to the members via the USW Local 6166 website.

Since our press release, we have met with the Mayor of Thompson, Dennis Fenske, Deputy Mayor Kathy Valentino and Kelly Bindle, our Provincial MLA who at this point are seeking information and help from us to where we need to go. The City of Thompson has a number of initiatives that they are working on with the Provincial Government. The City of Thompson and USW Local 6166 representatives have a meeting set up with the Provincial Government on May 26, 2017 to update and discuss how the Government can provide assistance.

We have met with Vale Representatives this week to discuss the impact of the Birchtree closure and what we can do to mitigate any potential layoffs to our members. We are currently waiting for a response on a number of request we have made.
It is our intent to keep you updated as often as we can when we have new information that affects you. Please reach out to our activists with any concerns or questions you may have. We need to stay strong and united at this very difficult time.

Les Ellsworth



On May 15, 2017, United Steelworkers Local 6166 President Les Ellsworth and Vice President Gord Medwid were called to a meeting by Vale Manitoba Operations Vice President Mark Scott and other senior management. At that meeting, the USW representatives were informed by Mark Scott that Birch Tree Mine would be put on care and maintenance by Oct 1, 2017. Birch tree mine is one of three operating mines in the operation. The reasons that were given to put the Mine on Care and Maintenance were stated as low metal prices, declining ore grades and a number of production issues.

At no time prior to this decision was the Union informed that Vale Manitoba operations would be making a presentation to corporate Vale to put Birch Tree Mine on Care and Maintenance. It came as a surprise and a huge disappointment that Vale Management did not seek or ask for any input from the Union as they had done in the past to potentially prevent this decision. This was strictly a Manitoba Operations Management decision that was ultimately supported by Corporate Vale in Toronto.

The Union was informed that this decision could affect up to 120 of our members, 30 Staff and 50 additional roles. The Union has made it very clear that the collective bargaining agreement will be followed during the closure of the Mine. We are in the process of setting up a joint committee to address the issues we are facing in regards to a possible lay off. It is currently the union’s position that no member of the union will be laid off if there are contractors on site. The Union has been in ongoing discussions with Vale regarding the Smelter and Refinery surface plant closures scheduled for August of 2018 and the process of transitioning the members from the surface plants into the mines. This announcement is expected to complicate that process so it is anticipated that the joint committee will have a large task ahead of them dealing with a number of various concerns from the membership.

It is important to note that as of this writing we have had no contact from our MLA in regards to support from our provincial government.

We, as your union representatives, will do everything that we possibly can within our capabilities along with the CBA to encourage Vale to step up and offer retirement incentives to senior employees in order to mitigate any potential layoffs resulting from Vale’s decision.

Les Ellsworth


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