Published on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010
Striking union members in Sudbury have engaged in “unlawful thuggery” by threatening personnel during a bitter seven-month strike at Vale Inco, the company alleges in a lawsuit.
United Steelworkers Local 6500 and some of its members have posted personal information about people who are continuing to work during the strike, which has led to intimidation, threats and an assault, the mining giant alleges in its more than $1-million lawsuit.
“This has not been a peaceful strike,” the company writes in a statement of claim, filed in Superior Court in Sudbury.
“Masked picketers have engaged in criminal conduct, including an assault of a Vale Inco employee and the sabotage of Vale Inco property.”
People on the picket lines have set large fires so trucks carrying explosives and fuel can't cross, hydro wires have been cut, rail equipment has been damaged and roads have been littered with nail spikes to puncture truck tires, the statement of claim alleges.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
“The defendants' conduct is unlawful thuggery, which has nothing to do with legitimate trade union activity,” the lawsuit says. “This conduct should not be tolerated in a liberal and civilized society.”
Wayne Fraser, a director for the union in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, called the lawsuit an “antagonistic measure.”
“It's a nuisance,” said Mr. Fraser, who is not one of the 25 people directly named in the suit.
“[The allegations] are not true. They're unsubstantiated and it's just a way of Vale trying to divide the membership from its rank and file activists.”
A statement of defence has not yet been filed but is in the works, said Mr. Fraser, who also said the union plans to countersue the company for defamation.
The lawsuit comes as the two sides met with a mediator over the weekend for exploratory talks in a bid to find a way to ending a seven-month-old strike. The two sides have not formally met since the strike started.
More than 3,000 employees at Vale's mill, smelter, refinery and six nickel mines in the Sudbury area have been on strike for seven months.
At issue are proposals by Vale Inco to reduce a bonus tied to the price of nickel and to exempt new employees from its defined-benefit pension plan, moving them instead to a defined-contribution plan.
Workers complain they shouldn't have to give concessions to a company whose parent, Brazil-based Vale S.A., earned $5.35-billion (U.S.) in 2009.
The people named in the lawsuit have been targeting Vale employees who have returned to work during the strike, as well as contractors and personnel responsible for picket line security, the company alleges.
Pictures and personal information such as addresses and phone numbers have been posted on a union website and a Facebook page.
Those singled out have had their property and homes vandalized, received anonymous phone threats at home and one employee was assaulted while jogging, the statement of claim says.
Three people named in the lawsuit were criminally charged in that attack.
After that particular assault an altered picture of the man was posted on the Facebook site showing him with scars, a throwing star embedded in his torso, other “cutting weapons” in his torso and arms and his throat slit, as well as the words “Who's Next” on his shirt, according to the lawsuit.
While he was at work one day the same man's vehicle was vandalized, with his tires slashed and the word scab spray-painted about 12 times on his car. Union placards were found on and around the car, the company alleges.