BÉCANCOUR, QC, March 1, 2019 /CNW/ - Workers from the ABI aluminum smelter, locked-out of their jobs for nearly 14 months, gathered today at François Legault's constituency office to ask the Quebec Premier a simple question: "What are you doing, Mr. Legault?"
The workers are protesting the Legault government's inaction and a government-sanctioned contract allowing ABI to classify its employee 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 the ABI lockout has resulted in a revenue loss of $165 million for the utility in 2018 alone.
Allowing ABI – and U.S.-based majority owner Alcoa – to declare an intentional lockout of workers as an Act of God subverts the collective bargaining process and subsidizes the company's attack on employees' working standards, the Steelworkers union said.
"This lockout is dragging on because of the severe imbalance of power" in negotiations, said Clément Masse, President of Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9700, representing the 1,030 ABI workers who have been locked out since Jan. 11, 2018.
"Imagine if the government gave a $165-million subsidy to union members to go on strike for more than a year. Quebecers would not accept it," Masse said. "It is equally unacceptable to subsidize a labour dispute provoked by a foreign multinational. The Quebec government must act to restore the balance of power."
In addition to the demonstration at Legault's office in the riding of L'Assomption, locked-out ABI workers also protested today outside the offices of members of Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government in the Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec regions – Simon Allaire, Donald Martel and Labour Minister Jean Boulet.
Workers noted that, during last fall's Quebec election campaign, Legault pledged that resolving the ABI lockout would be a priority if his CAQ party was elected to power and he became Premier. At the time, Legault questioned the company's actions as well as the leadership of the Liberal government.
"The management side doesn't seem to be taking this seriously," Legault said on Aug. 31, 2018, while in full campaign mode.
A week later, Legault criticized the Liberal government for its lack of meaningful action, saying ,"It is really time for some leadership from the government."
The aspiring premier also sympathized with Steelworkers when they informed him of the dubious 'Act of God' clause that let ABI off the hook for its electricity commitments with Hydro-Québec, stating, "A contract can be broken, it can be renegotiated."
However, since Legault came to power five months ago, little has changed and the lockout is into its 14th month. Alcoa backed out of negotiations that were set for February and then rejected a proposal from the union that the dispute be resolved through a government-led arbitration process.
"Alcoa wants to impose its will on Quebec workers and communities," Masse said.
"The government cannot allow an American multinational, which benefits significantly from favourable electricity rates for its three aluminum smelters in Quebec, to abuse workers and make all Quebecers pay for the costs of its lockout. We are asking the government to take serious action. We are asking the Premier to take action to back up the statements he made during the election campaign."
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, firstname.lastname@example.org