TROIS-RIVIÈRES, QC, March 21, 2019 /CNW/ - The United Steelworkers union presented a counter-proposal to management of the ABI aluminum smelter today – 10 days after locked-out workers rejected a concession-laden company offer by an 82% majority.
The Steelworkers union says it hopes its counter-proposal will pave the way for the negotiation of a settlement between the parties to resolve the 14-month lockout, including a mutually acceptable return-to-work protocol.
The union's new proposal takes into account five issues identified by the employer during special mediation sessions – the organization of work, personnel transfers, absenteeism, union leaves and the pension plan – as well as issues including wages and the length of the collective agreement.
"Even though most issues were already resolved prior to the lockout, we have taken into account the new requests made by the company and have addressed them in our counter-proposal. We have even proposed new compromises on some issues, compared to our position during the last round of negotiations," said Clément Masse, President of Steelworkers Local 9700, representing the 1,030 locked-out ABI workers.
The union's counter-proposal incorporates a pension plan funding model put forward by the employer, moving away from a defined benefit plan where risk is assumed by the employer.
"The member-funded pension plan is a huge concession compared to the former defined benefit plan, given that the risk is borne by the workers. This model should provide a plan similar to what is in place in other aluminum smelters. This allows Alcoa to meet shareholder objectives and remove the pension plan from the liability column of its financial statements," Masse said.
The union said its counter-proposal also will increase productivity, with 103 positions expected to be reduced through attrition.
"The new work organization systems also will make it possible to respect seniority rights in personnel transfers. This is a responsible proposal that provides flexibility to the employer while ensuring that seniority and working conditions are respected. Our members are committed to this plant and we want to restart it, on a basis of mutual respect," Masse said.
While the union points out that wages were never a contentious issue in negotiations, its counter-proposal calls for increases based on the most-recent offer from the employer. The union's proposal calls for wage increases to be spread over an eight-year period, retroactive to the expiry of the previous collective agreement in November 2017.
"We have put forward a very clear counter-proposal that reflects several compromises compared to the union's previous positions," said Dominic Lemieux, assistant to the United Steelworkers' Quebec Director.
"We are now appealing to the corporate shareholders to give a clear mandate to management to negotiate a settlement. A negotiated agreement will ensure the best-possible conditions for restarting the plant and resuming the production of quality aluminum and value-added products," Lemieux said.
"Last week, our members sent a clear signal: they will not return on their knees. Today, the union executive is reaching out to the company and the shareholders to put an end to this dispute, through a negotiated settlement."
The 1,030 union members at the Bécancour smelter were locked out on Jan. 11, 2018, by Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
Hydro-Québec recently reported that the lockout cost the publicly owned utility $165 million in lost revenues in 2018.
The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers in all sectors of the economy.
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Clairandrée Cauchy, United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos Communications, 514-774-4001, [email protected]