Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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February 25th, 2011 8:29 AM

"It will be hard for me to start over"

Sheila Thompson
Box Floor Operator in the refinery

If I end up losing my job, it will be hard for me to start over. I’ll be 42 this year and I’ve already invested 19 years in that place.

Although Vale has said that no one will lose their jobs, I’m very unsure of my future. I’ve been working in the refinery for 19 years, and I like it. It’s a great place to work. I don’t want to have to go to a different department, or a different plant, or possibly underground to work in the mine.

The processing here is important because we make the best nickel in the world. And there are lots of specialty products we make, too, like the plating for sinks and car rims.

In the refinery in summertime it’s brutally hot. Wintertime is the best time to work in a refinery because it’s warm. The starting point in the refinery is the tank house – that’s where they make the nickel. It’s hard, backbreaking work. There are jobs that are a lot easier, but those are usually taken by the people with seniority. You work your way up.

I started off on the tanks, and now I’ve got a pretty good job. I know the workers were really looking forward to the modernization that was supposed to take place and now we’re told that’s not going to happen. That would have made things a lot easier.

I work 8 hour shifts. In the tank house, shifts are about 11.5 hours. That’s the same as the work in the smelter. In the wintertime if you’re working 11.5 or 12 hours shifts, you don’t see a lot of daylight. You go to work in the dark, and you come out in the dark.

I’ve met people from all over the world because of my involvement with the union, and I tell them how cold it gets here and how little daylight we have in the winter. They’re just amazed. A lot of people ask, “How do you live!”

My message to Vale would be to listen to the options that stakeholders are giving them, and to give it some serious thought. I’d like them to realize that their decision ultimately can impact up to 600 people if not more in the community. It’s not just the people in the smelter and refinery, it’s the whole community. We’re trying to draw businesses here. We’re trying to get new, young families in, so they have to realize the impact this will have.

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