Hidden agenda of ABI in Bécancour - Exploiting the economic crisis to gut a collective agreement

    BECANCOUR, QC, April 10 /CNW Telbec/ - Yesterday afternoon, management of
the ABI smelter in Bécancour made a surprise announcement - with no prior
union consultation. It clearly demonstrated that ALCOA has a hidden agenda.
"We accepted the mediator's report, which addressed all of the company's
goals. But yesterday, the company announced that it wants to cut 275 jobs, and
threatened the smelter with closure," says Clément Masse, President of Local
9700 of the United Steelworkers (FTQ). "They are exploiting the economic
crisis to roll back all of our hard-won progress. What we are seeing is the
Walmartisation of labour relations at ABI."
    The union local is stunned to see the company acting unilaterally to
thoroughly undermine the collective agreement. On March 4, the employer
unilaterally demanded a 15 per cent reduction in workers' hours. The company
then - again, without consulting the union - presented a new work plan for its
three Quebec plants. At this point, the union asked the Quebec labour ministry
to mediate, and ABI management agreed. Following the mediation process, the
mediator filed a report, which the union accepted. The company, however, never
contacted the union before announcing the recent cuts. Masse adds, "ALCOA's
attitude is in sharp contrast with the union's efforts to create a climate of
cooperation, and with the plan we had mutually agreed on that would see hours
reduced. We are now calling on the government to ensure that the labour
agreement negotiated with ALCOA remains in force. That agreement calls for
employment for 935 workers. The time is now, in the midst of an economic
crisis, to ensure that the agreement is respected."
    The company is enjoying savings of almost $10 million per month on the
cost of energy supplied by Hydro-Québec Masse notes. "The 15 per cent
reduction they are demanding will save the company a further $1 million per
month. Government programs funded by our tax dollars should not be used to
allow a company to weather the economic crisis on the backs of workers. The
age of political softness has gone on long enough, and it is time for the
government to step up to the plate. We refuse to be the puppets of a
multinational company while workers and their families suffer at its hands."
    Masse says the union local will use every means at its disposal in the
collective agreement to assist the 275 workers affected by ALCOA's unilateral
and hard-hearted position. He adds that the union will also explore the
legality of ALCOA's actions.
    In video presentations on the subject of reduced work hours, shown in
ALCOA plants, the employer affirmed that it would respect the process laid out
in the collective agreements. "We believe that the employer has contravened
the collective agreements, which state that union is the sole negotiating
agent," Masse says.

    The ABI smelter, located in Bécancour, has been producing aluminum since
1986. It currently employs about 1,000 workers, who are preparing to negotiate
a new contract. The current agreement with the company expires in November,
and the date at which the legal negotiation period for the Office/Technical
unit began is April 1, 2009.

For further information:

For further information: Clément Masse, United Steelworkers (FTQ), Local
9700, (819) 370-7392

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