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Striking workers attend a rally in Sudbury on Jan. 13, 2010 (Gino Donato/Gino Donato/The Canadian Press)
Striking workers attend a rally in Sudbury on Jan. 13, 2010 (Gino Donato/Gino Donato/The Canadian Press)

Nickel workers approve contract with Vale Add to ...

Unionized workers at the former Inco nickel mines in Ontario will be back on the job within weeks after approving a new labour contract and ending one of the longest strikes in Canadian history.

After a year-long strike, union members voted about 75 per cent in favour of a five-year contract, which includes modest wage increases, a new two-tier pension plan, a tighter bonus based on the price of nickel, and some layoffs. About 84 per cent of the union's eligible striking workers cast ballots on Wednesday and Thursday.

"I'm pleased with the deal," said Wayne Fraser, director of the district that includes the striking United Steelworkers locals 6200 and 6500. "There are still 25 per cent of the membership that are not happy, but we'll live to fight another day."

Workers will return to work over the next six weeks, which was part of the contract agreement.

The deal also includes changes that will sees Brazilian owner Vale SA squeeze costs and boost productivity at the operations it obtained when it bought Inco in 2006 for $19.4-billion, one of a series of foreign takeovers of Canadian mining companies at the time.

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Approval of the contract came just days before the one-year anniversary of the strike, which began July 13, 2009.

About 3,100 workers at mines in Sudbury and Port Colborne walked off the job after the members of the United Steel Workers union failed to agree to its first-ever contract with Vale.

Much of the disagreement revolved around a bonus tied to the price of nickel, as well as a move towards a defined contribution pension plan.

The contract approved Thursday includes minor changes from a proposal overwhelmingly rejected by union members in March.

The new deal is expected to serve as a blueprint for 120 workers on strike at Vale's operations in Voisey's Bay, Nfld. who have been on strike since Aug. 1, 2009.

Vale's Canadian operations produce about 10 per cent of the world's nickel supply.

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