No more ‘same old, same old’ for Canada’s labor unions

Jan 01, 2009 | 11:09 AM |

TORONTO The widely held stereotype of Canadians being a polite, respectful and orderly bunch can be quickly shattered by looking at the country's long history of acrimonious labor disputes in the mining sector.

Extracting Canada's rich bounty of mineral resources is only possible by employing a work force that is organized and largely unionized, setting the stage for heated confrontations that frequently result in work stoppages and the occasional picket line scuffle.

To resolve differences, negotiators must get to know one another, understand each other's motives and limits, and build credibility within a long-term relationship. But a dramatic change in the corporate landscape over the past few years has meant rebuilding these partnerships.

Much of Canada's big mining operations are now under foreign ownership. Xstrata Plc, Vale and Rio Tinto have replaced names such as Falconbridge Ltd., Inco Ltd. and Alcan Inc. that were around for generations. With global multinationals now in control, negotiators for the Canadian Auto Workers union and the United Steelworkers union, which vehemently opposed the foreign acquisitions, find themselves in uncharted territory. While many of the same company negotiators remain at the table, the people who hold the purse strings now reside thousands of miles away in boardrooms where Canadian operations are just one small piece of their global business empire.....

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