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Arbitrator reinstates Sudbury miner fired during 2009 strike

SUDBURY, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)


SUDBURY, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)

One of the nine workers fired over alleged misconduct on the picket line during a nasty labour dispute has been reinstated, almost three years after his initial termination.

Mike Courchesne was one of nine Vale employees terminated by the mine during a year-long strike at the company’s Sudbury, Ont. nickel mine in 2009. The workers were fired following a review of conduct, which included alleged incidents of threats, intimidation, harassment and violence.

“We’re really ecstatic, we’re elated that this person was successful with their arbitration because right from the beginning we think that Vale overreacted with their decision and their allegations that the company believed this person did to warrant his termination,” said Myles Sullivan, the United Steelworkers (USW) staff representative for district six, which represents Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. Sullivan was party to the collective agreement negotiations between Vale and the union during the strike.

The strike, which lasted from July 2009 to July 2010, was prolonged because the union deemed reinstatement of the workers to be a necessary term of any collective agreement, but the mining company had decided “that ‘under no circumstances’ could Vale allow for any of the discharged employees to be returned to work,” wrote Ian Anderson for the Ontario Labour Relations Board in a ruling from earlier this year.

“We’re hopeful he will be back to work by the end of September. The arbitrator has given the company that much time to have Mr. Courchesne medically assessed,” said Denis Theriault, vice-president of USW local 6500.

Courchesne, who had been working full-time for a mining contractor in Timmins, must first pass Vale’s new employee medical prerequisites to confirm that he is fit for work before he returns.

 “Vale acknowledges the decision of the arbitrator in this case. Although we stand by our view that Mr. Courchesne’s conduct warranted discipline — something the arbitrator concluded as well — we will follow through on the decision as directed,” a statement from the company noted.

In February, the board ruled that Vale’s position was patently unreasonable and the company was not making every reasonable effort to come to a collective agreement, breaching section 17 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, and the board was directed to arbitrate the discharges on a just cause standard.

Five workers are still waiting for their arbitration hearing, as one worker settled with USW and Vale to take his pension and retire at the end of the strike and two others have found work elsewhere and do not want to return, Sullivan confirmed.

Three of those workers — Mike French, Jason Patterson (who had served on the negotiating team) and Patrick Vienot (who was vice-president of USW Local 6500 until the spring of 2009) — were charged in early 2009 with assaulting a co-worker while he was out jogging because he had crossed the picket line to continue work. French was convicted of assault and charges against the other two were dropped.

 “We’re confident justice can be reached for them as well. It’s unfortunate that Vale would not reinstate those five now, instead of waiting for it to go through arbitration,” Sullivan said.

Theriault said he expects the arbitration to be completed by the end of the year, noting that each individual was dismissed for similar reasons.

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