TROIS-RIVIÈRES, QC, March 11, 2019 /CNW/ - Locked-out workers from the ABI aluminum smelter voted by an 82% majority today to reject the company's unilateral contract offer.
The vote came after 90% of the workers, locked out for 14 months, held a lengthy meeting to discuss the ABI offer as well as a proposed return-to-work protocol. Members of three separate bargaining units within United Steelworkers (Syndicat des Métallos) Local 9700 rejected the company's offer.
"The offer represented a series of take-backs by the company. ABI has refused to negotiate, it has refused to accept third-party arbitration. It just wanted to impose its will, counting on fatigue from by its 14-month lockout," said Clément Masse, President of Steelworkers Local 9700.
"The answer from our members is clear: it didn't work. The members don't want to go back on their knees. Alcoa disrespects our Labour Code by negotiating in bad faith, it disrespects Quebecers by making them pay for its lockout, it disrespects workers by closing the door on negotiation as well as arbitration," Masse said.
"The government of Quebec must intervene. The imbalance of power is unacceptable and the behaviour of this multinational is unacceptable," he added.
While only two issues were in dispute when ABI locked out its employees on Jan. 11, 2018, the company added to the list of concession demands with its latest, unilateral offer. Compared to proposals made to workers prior to the lockout, the latest offer called for concessions on issues including pensions, seniority, contracting out, eliminating positions, work organization and scheduling.
Prior to today's vote by workers, the company publicly touted wage increases included in its unilateral offer, but wages were never a stumbling block in the dispute, the Steelworkers note.
ABI's offer also was accompanied by a unilateral return-to-work protocol, which had not been the subject of any discussion between the parties. The company proposed that locked-out employees would return to work gradually, over a period of at least 10 months – and possibly longer – during which time managers and contract workers would take the jobs of regular employees.
"Such a prolonged return-to-work period is unprecedented," Masse said. "The principle of a return-to-work protocol is to negotiate the armistice to the conflict. This protocol does the opposite, it sets fires. By way of comparison, following a labour dispute in 2004, everyone was back in the plant within six weeks."
Steelworkers Quebec Director Alain Croteau urged aluminum giant Alcoa to change course and to pursue a fair settlement in order to restart the ABI smelter as soon as possible. Alcoa owns a 75% stake in the facility, with Rio Tinto owning the remaining 25%.
"This plant can be very productive – it already has the lowest labour costs in North America. This conflict is dragging on because the dice are loaded, because the Quebec government and Hydro-Québec are subsidizing Alcoa's lockout," Croteau said.
The union is protesting a Quebec government-sanctioned contract allowing ABI to classify its lockout as a "force majeure," or Act of God, in order to suspend electricity-purchasing commitments with publicly owned utility Hydro-Québec. Hydro-Québec has confirmed that ABI's lockout has resulted in a revenue loss of $165 million for the utility in 2018 alone.
The Steelworkers have called on Quebec Premier François Legault and his government to make good on their pre-election pledge last fall to resolve the ABI lockout.
"Mr. Legault, people would never tolerate the Government of Quebec giving $165 million to workers during a labour dispute. Why do you agree to subsidize a lockout imposed by a multinational like Alcoa? Mr. Premier, if you put your foot down, the multinationals will listen," Croteau said.
The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers from all economic sectors.
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Clairandrée Cauchy, United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, 514-774-4001, [email protected]