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Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard

Posted: November 16, 2009 03:09 PM

Business Council Honors Vale CEO for Clipping Workers, Wacking Towns

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A business group is honoring Roger Agnelli, the CEO of Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world, which, coincidentally, is in the midst of its longest ever labor dispute. The award is for exceptional accomplishments in corporate social responsibility.

The Business Council for International Understanding will give Agnelli the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Citizenship Award, feting him for his corporate behavior five months after he provoked the strike by more than 3,000 miners, mill workers and smelters in my hometown of Sudbury and neighboring Port Colborne, Canada.

The strikers now include 450 Vale nickel and copper workers from Voisey's Bay, also represented by my union, the United Steelworkers (USW).

Vale is the Brazilian-based corporation that boasted $13.2 billion in profits last year and reported third-quarter, after-tax earnings of $1.7 billion this year, more than double its second quarter haul. Vale is a highly profitable corporation demanding workers take concessions. For example, it wants deep cuts to pay supplements workers get only when nickel prices are high.

Cash flush even during the worldwide recession, Vale has engaged in a buying spree for mines and properties worldwide. In 2008, it announced it would spend $2 billion on electrical projects, mostly coal-fired, and by year end reached agreement to spend $300 million on Colombian coal assets. It got permission from the Brazilian government this year to buy iron ore mines for $750 million. It spent $17.8 billion in 2006 for Inco's nickel mines and smelters in Canada, and as metal prices rose, earned nearly as much from them over the next two years as Inco had in the previous 10. Still, Agnelli insisted the very Canadian workers whose labor helped Vale make that money take cuts to their income -- causing the strike.

Workers and their families have struggled since the strike. The towns in Ontario and Newfoundland have suffered as well because many mining supply and service companies temporarily closed, idling untold additional workers. Kari Cusack, a member of Families Supporting the Strikers, talked about it early in November before a family day on the picket line in Sudbury. She told a local newspaper reporter:

"We see Vale's attack on Local 6500 as an attack on our entire community, and we want to do our part to fight back against corporate greed."

The Business Council for International Understanding chose that corporate social responsibility to reward.

In Brazil, Agnelli has shown off some of that corporate social responsibility as well. In September, the government fined Vale $20 million for failing to comply with an antitrust order. Last year, Agnelli secured a court injunction in an attempt to block protesters from the country's largest social activist group, the Landless Rural Workers Movement, rather than negotiate with those complaining that the company's iron furnaces were polluting their village and that a hydroelectric dam in which Vale is a partner was flooding their homes. Also last year, Brazil's Office of the Environment fined Vale $3 million for illegal sale of wood.

Workers from Canada and Vale Brazil demonstrated together in August in front of the multinational's Rio de Janeiro headquarters. They served pieces of a giant cake commemorating the 30th day of the USW strike in Ontario. There the Canadian workers learned that Agnelli had forced its Brazilian workers to accept a defined contribution pension plan. Now Agnelli is trying to force the Canadians take the same inferior plan.

The International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the Botswana Power Corporation Workers Union (BCPWU) and others from around the world have written Agnelli expressing outrage about the strike. Bohithetswe Lentswe, BCPWU General Secretary, wrote:

"We have every reason to believe that Vale is trying to destroy its strongest collective bargaining agreement for the purpose of setting a precedent to weaken other collective bargaining agreements throughout the world. Vale is also attempting to export its anti-worker, anti-union practices in Brazil to the rest of the world."

Of course. That's what great CEOs do, as the Business Council for International Understanding will proclaim at its Dec. 3 dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria, New York City. With the cheapest tickets going for $1,000, it's likely none of those $29-an-hour Vale workers will get a seat. But Agnelli, who is one of six Vale executives who together pulled down $33 million last year, could effortlessly drop $100,000 for an "underwriting level" table of 10 at his award dinner.

Perhaps there the Business Council for International Understanding will detail its reasons for selecting Agnelli for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Citizenship Award. It only profiles Vale and Agnelli on its web page, without, for example, providing the kind of insight into Agnelli's personality that Antonio Regalado did for the Wall Street Journal in 2008 in a story:

"Current and former Vale executives say Mr. Agnelli can be hard on subordinates. Some of them cite what they say is an autocratic style and a table-pounding temper. . . . In internal company surveys, employees complain frequently that they are under too much pressure . . . Marco Dalpozzo, Vale's head of human resources, doesn't deny that Mr. Agnelli can be rough on people, "He's a tough guy," he says."

Again: of course. That's what business groups prize -- executives with table-pounding tempers.

The Business Council is, however, a group that claims it was started by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower and named its prize for him. It's not clear, though, that the business values of the current council and Agnelli resemble those of President Eisenhower. For example, here's what the President wrote in November 1954:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt. . ., a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

To let the Business Council know the ways in which you think this award for Agnelli will increase its goal of international understanding, call 212-490-0460 in New York, 202-595-2668 in Washington or 44-207-225-3561 in London.

LabourStart has created a web page so you can easily write a personal note directly to Agnelli. It's here. It enables you to quickly drop Agnelli a little note telling him just how much you think he deserves this honor.