BÉCANCOUR, QC, July 4, 2018 /CNW/ - Locked out of their jobs since Jan. 11, unionized employees of the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour held a membership meeting yesterday during which they voted by a 90.14% majority, in a secret ballot, to endorse the direction taken by their representatives in the collective bargaining process.
The overwhelming demonstration of support from members of United Steelworkers/ Syndicat des Métallos Local 9700 came after they learned that, since negotiations resumed nearly a month ago, the company has put forward new demands rather than seeking a settlement on the few outstanding issues.
At a press conference this morning, union representatives spoke out against the company's bad faith.
"The employer has been piling on the demands. Not only are they proposing workforce reductions in the neighbourhood of 20%, they want our blessing as well," said Clément Masse, Steelworkers Local 9700 President.
"The employer is now questioning a number of contract issues that were already settled. We were already close to an agreement on the pension plan issue prior to the lockout in January, and there some issues to resolve concerning employee turnover. We have since made some overtures to try to resolve the employee turnover issue, but the employer has responded by backtracking on several issues that were settled for all intents and purposes," Masse said.
Dominic Lemieux, Assistant to the United Steelworkers' Quebec Director, questioned why the company would make new demands after former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard was appointed as a special mediator to try to bring the two sides to a settlement.
Lemieux, who regularly participates in the final stages of negotiations between Steelworkers members and various multinationals, joined the negotiations following Bouchard's appointment as special mediator. He said he was taken aback by the new demands made by negotiators for ABI, which is 75% owned by aluminum giant Alcoa. Rio Tinto owns the remaining 25%.
"One of the basic principles of bargaining is to put all the cards on the table at the outset and not add new demands during negotiations. It looks as if Alcoa's negotiators have forgotten this," Lemieux said.
"You could say that the little stream that separated the parties in January is becoming a gaping chasm. Alcoa wants the workers to pay for its ill-advised decision to impose the lockout. A settlement is within reach, but Alcoa's miscalculation is slowing down the process," he said.
Union representatives question the company's change of direction, which is hindering a settlement.
"We were close to a settlement prior to the lockout. The employer had made an offer that was supposed to ensure the company's competitiveness, but now they're backtracking on that offer and demanding many more concessions. After a six-month lockout, it almost seems like a joke. Let's get back to meaningful negotiations and put an end to this dispute, which is hurting the company, the workers and the community alike," Masse said.
"Sooner or later we will have to reach an agreement. The longer this drags on, the more money Alcoa and Rio Tinto will lose," Lemieux said.
"They need to understand that the workers remain strong. We could sign an agreement today that would be no different than the agreement we might come to later. We're left to wonder how much more of a sacrifice the management of these two corporations are prepared to make because they've misread the situation," he added.
The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing 60,000 workers in all sectors of the economy.
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Clairandrée Cauchy, Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers Communications, 514-774-4001, firstname.lastname@example.org