A prescription drug cap is among the issues in a strike by United Steelworkers union members in western Labrador.

The union members work for the Iron Ore Co. of Canada, a joint venture involving Rio Tinto, which holds 58.7 per cent, Mitsubishi Corp. and the Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corp. According to the CBC, the members have been on strike since late March.

A cap on prescription drugs was the No. 1 reason for the strike, according to Ron Thomas, president of the United Steelworkers Local 5795.

Read: Quebec smelter employees reject proposal for two-tiered pension plan

“Right now, we have a plan from [the company] that covers our drug coverage up to 85 per cent, that’s got a lifetime cap of $40,000. And we’re looking at ways of trying to get the company to increase that,” says Thomas.

“Ever since the beginning of negotiations, we’ve been fighting back concessions the whole time. And that was our No. 1 demand, was to fix something on the drug cap.”

Thomas notes pensions are an issue as well.

“We have a hybrid [pension] plan. We have a defined contribution plan that’s paid by the employee and the employer, and the other half of our plan is a defined benefit. And we were looking at getting some increases on our defined benefit part of our pension. That’s the issue that we’ve been trying to get on that part, because defined contribution doesn’t really help anybody that’s planning on going out the door in the next couple of years,” he says.

Read: Union-led, multi-employer pension considering transition to target-benefit plan

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour has released a statement about the situation, suggesting the impasse illuminates a need for better labour laws in the province. The federation noted the Iron Ore Co. has been using replacement workers and suggested it has resorted to extraordinary security measures to intimidate striking union members.

“When a large multinational company, such as Rio Tinto, is more concerned about intimidating both their employees and the broader community where these workers and their families live, that’s when we need strong leadership from government, and progressive labour laws, to say our citizens deserve better,” said Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, in a news release.

The Iron Ore Co. and Rio Tinto didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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