July 12, 2018
Goderich Salt Mine Workers and
Community Fight for
Their Rights and Dignity
Workers Take Action to Block
Compass Minerals from Running
the Facility with Scabs
Goderich Salt Mine Workers and Community Fighting for Their Rights
• Workers Take Action to Block Compass Minerals
from Running the Facility
ABI Owners in
Bécancour Demand More Concessions from
the Anti-Social Dictate of the Alcoa-Rio Tinto Cartel! -
• Interview, Clément Masse, President,
United Steelworkers Local 9700
• Alexandre Fréchette, President,
United Steelworkers Local 9490 Speaks to Workers' Forum
• BC Casino Workers Reject Tentative Agreement
- Brian Sproule
Goderich Salt Mine Workers and Community
Fight for Their Rights and Dignity
Workers Take Action to Block Compass Minerals
from Running the Facility with Scabs
Workers at the U.S.-based Compass Minerals' mine in
been on strike since April 27. The strike action was taken to
against Compass' unacceptable demands for concessions. The company has
refused to negotiate and has continued operations using scabs from
outside the community.
The striking workers took action on July 4 to
prevent the scabs
from entering the facilities, as a means to force the company to resume
negotiations. Workers erected a blockade with wooden pallets and
vehicles to block the entrance to the mine. Meanwhile, they also
assembled members and supporters at the dock to ensure no scabs
came in via the lake.
The company has been
operating with managers and scabs since
April 27. Workers report that the scabs arrive in
every day, having been flown in mostly from a drilling company in New
Brunswick along with a number of others from Quebec. When the workers
began erecting the blockade over thirty scabs were
inside the mine facilities. They were later escorted out by the workers
who chanted "Solidarity! Do Not Come Back!"
Two days later on July 6, Compass Minerals filed
for and obtained a
court order stipulating striking workers must remove their blockade of
pallets and vehicles by the next day at 4:30 pm. The workers
but shortly after the barricade came down a cavalcade of farm tractors
started arriving to block access to the facility. Compass
Minerals obtained a new court order on July 9
forcing the removal of the tractors from the entrance to the company's
facilities. The tractors left and the following day an agreement was
reached between Unifor and Compass Minerals to resume negotiations on
July 12 and that during negotiations workers will allow
access to the mine.
The resolve of the workers is strong as the concessions
the company is demanding would seriously impact working conditions,
especially health and safety conditions. Hundreds of workers have come
from across Ontario to support the just struggle of the Goderich
workers and are taking part in actions that have now become a 24/7
vigil in defence of their rights. The resolve of the community is also
strong. The community sees the fight of the Compass mine workers as
their own and daily events are being organized in which large numbers
of people, including children, participate.
Gary Lynch, President of Unifor Local 16-0, the
the Goderich workers, explained in a video the issue of forced
overtime, which is one of the major issues in the dispute: "Sixty-hour
work week, into another sixty-hour work week followed by a third
sixty-hour work week, and the fourth week is 72 hours. You
can be disciplined and fired, terminated, if you do not make those
shifts. That is just a start as we are up against a corporation that is
from the United States of America that does not care about an
individual's right. That is what we are facing. Take it or leave it.
That is the way we are being treated. This is the mother ship right
here. That is why
they are attacking it because it lines up with all the other little
places in Canada; Unity [in Saskatchewan], Amherst [Nova
Scotia], our sister plant here in town, and that is where
they are going to hit next."
Another worker explained in the same video that in a
Louisiana plant the workers are forced to work 12 hour shifts with
hours of compulsory overtime, six or even seven days a week. The
concessions Compass demands here in Goderich could result in a similar
situation being imposed if the company were to succeed.
Support the just struggle of the Goderich workers and
their community for their rights and dignity! Follow the workers' lead!
Defend the rights of all! Messages of support can be sent to:
ABI Owners in Bécancour Demand
from Locked-Out Workers
Anti-Social Dictate of the
Alcoa-Rio Tinto Cartel!
Solidarity rally at Bécancour aluminum smelter, March 23, 2018.
The Alcoa-Rio Tinto lockout of 1,030 workers at the
Bécancour aluminum smelter (ABI) in Quebec has now lasted six
months. The ABI management is now piling on its concessionary demands.
During mediation talks with government-appointed mediator Lucien
Bouchard, the former premier of Quebec and former national leader of
the Bloc québécois, management used the occasion not to
reach an agreement but to make additional demands.
Smelter workers report ABI now wants a 20 per cent
net cut of union certified jobs currently contained in the collective
agreement. ABI wants to replace work under the collective agreement
with non-union contracted out or occasional workers under conditions
clearly inferior to those of unionized workers. Workers also report
company wants to backtrack on elements that have already been settled.
At a general assembly, ABI workers massively rejected these
provocations and demanded negotiations resume in good faith to arrive
at an agreement acceptable to them.
The 20 per cent cut in
union jobs at the smelter means ABI management wants to begin
immediately its major restructuring threatened last March. At that
time, ABI suddenly withdrew its former offer from the bargaining table
under the hoax that workers' actions prior to the lockout in 2017
had caused unspecified damage to the
smelter. Instead of negotiating in good faith and concluding an
agreement that was well within reach, ABI threatened an anti-worker
restructuring and filed a $19-million damage grievance against
Local 9700 and its executive. This deliberate diversion prolonged
the lockout and forced the union to fight the unfounded and fraudulent
After six months of lockout, the new restructuring
demand is a brutal attack on workers and the community. The loss
of 200 bargaining unit jobs would significantly reduce the
unionized workforce. Aside from everything else, the loss of union
positions would make it more difficult to wage an effective struggle in
workers' rights to maintain a certain equilibrium between the cartel,
which takes its orders from who knows where to serve its private global
interests, and the workers, their community and the people of Quebec.
ABI is the region's largest employer. Such a cut in
unionized workers would mean a significant drop in conditions at the
plant and an impoverishment of the region through an increase in
precarious work with inferior wages without a defined-benefit pension
plan. This amounts to a significant transfer of the new value ABI
out of the region and into the global cartel's coffers. This long-term
loss is compounded in the immediate term with the loss of revenue
suffered by workers hired by subcontractors and suppliers who have
been laid off since the lockout. The media have reported that many of
the laid-off workers have now exhausted or will soon exhaust their
employment insurance benefits.
On top of the enormous
losses in the community during the lockout, the steelworkers' union now
estimates ABI has reneged on paying Hydro Québec close
to $108 million. The contract for the supply of electricity
between the government, Hydro Québec and ABI stipulates, amongst
other things, that a strike or a lockout is considered a
"force majeure" and relieves the company of its obligation to pay for
the block of energy reserved for it, although the power has already
been planned for and produced.
The long list of anti-social actions of the global
Alcoa-Rio Tinto cartel includes the refusal to pay students it hires
the same rate as occasional workers. The Quebec Human Rights and Youth
Rights Tribunal recently rendered a decision ordering ABI to pay
students the same rate as occasional workers, which ABI is appealing.
Clearly, the private interests that control Alcoa and
Rio Tinto are obsessed with their own narrow interests, which clash
with the individual and collective interests of the working people and
the general interests of society. They could care less about the
lockout harming the interests of 1,030 workers and their
community, the theft of
electricity from Hydro Québec and the loss of value for the
regional and Quebec economy.
This clash of interests is evident in an ABI
communiqué attempting to justify its demand for a 20 per
cent cut in unionized jobs:
"At present, ABI has an opportunity to adjust its
organizational structure without layoffs as a result of a wave of
retirements. This year, management at ABI carried out an in-depth
comparative analysis to test and assess numerous ideas on how to
improve the plant. The portion of the aluminium smelter presently in
operation is effective and
produces an unequalled level of metal purity. The changes proposed for
a new contract are competitive, equitable and in line with Quebec's
The focus of Alcoa-Rio Tinto is entirely on
expropriating value from the ABI smelter and Hydro Québec and
removing it to serve its global private interests. The focus quite
obviously is not on the well-being of the Quebec working people and
pouring new value workers produce back into the extended reproduction
of the local and Quebec
ABI says, "The portion of the aluminium smelter
presently in operation is effective and produces an unequalled level of
metal purity." This language referring to production during the lockout
is similar to what Rio Tinto said of production during its six month
lockout of Alma workers in 2012. When the Alma workers went back
work, it took them around one year of sustained struggle to
re-establish the health and safety conditions in place prior to the
lockout. The "effective operation" and "unequalled purity" had been
attained through the dismantling of most health and safety measures and
conditions during the lockout.
The fraud of the ABI
communiqué emerges from the imperialist aim behind the demands
to guarantee the viability of the plant. Global cartels, such as
Alcan-Rio Tinto, use their power to extract concessions wherever they
operate. They use lockouts and other means to maximize the amount of
value they expropriate and to manipulate market
prices to their advantage. Their actions arising from their imperialist
aim provoke and contribute to recurring economic crises and unresolved
problems that plague the economy and society. Their obsession with
their own narrow private interests is incompatible with the socialized
economy in which their businesses operate, which demands all-sided
cooperation and distribution of the value workers produce to diversify
and strengthen the economy and humanize the social and natural
The demand for restructuring and the criminalization of
workers who defend their rights have nothing to do with negotiating a
collective agreement. They are the words and deeds of dictators bent on
sabotaging a civilized negotiation process to bring equilibrium into
relations of production. The words and deeds of Alcoa-Rio Tinto are a
threat to the well-being of working people and the viability of
Quebec's socialized economy. They are altogether unacceptable and the
workers deserve support for doing everything in their power to defeat
them. Workers in Quebec and other places are taking concrete measures
to provide the ABI workers and their community with assistance. By
relying on our collective strength, we defeat defeatism. This is the
way to go!
Interview, Clément Masse, President,
United Steelworkers Local 9700
Workers' Forum: The union held a
general membership meeting on July 3 concerning new demands from
the owners of the ABI smelter who have locked out the workers since
January 11. Can you tell us more about the situation?
We took a break from the mediation that
is taking place with former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard as mediator.
We held a general membership meeting to seek confirmation from our
members of our position in the negotiations. The workers confirmed the
position we held since December when the
employer left the bargaining table. We rejected the offer at that time
but we indicated that we were close to an agreement. At the July 3
meeting, the workers confirmed that we want to return to the table and
finish negotiations by picking it up where it was in December. The vote
of confidence and support for the bargaining committee taken
at the meeting was 90 per cent with a turnout of
approximately 80 per cent of union members.
It is not usual to do this, but the employer came up
with new demands at the bargaining table that are unacceptable. We
organized the membership meeting to confirm our mandate. Although it
has been six months since we were locked out the workers are behind us.
They are still strong. Morale is good. The workers are not on their
the employer thought they could toss the union aside and sow division
among our members, they were wrong.
The main new demand from the employer is to cut 20
per cent of jobs that, according to the collective agreement, belong to
the bargaining unit. They want to cut jobs by attrition, up to 20
per cent of ABI positions that are protected under our collective
agreement. This demand affects workers, of course, and it also affects
community, because the employer wants to give itself the discretion to
replace those jobs with subcontracted or casual jobs, precarious jobs.
It is like making the community pay for the employer's bad decision to
lock us out. It is they who made the decision to organize a lockout,
not us. They do not have to make the community pay for that. In
December, the employer made a final offer to achieve its productivity
aims. We agreed to discuss this demand. There is no need for the
company to cut 20 per cent of the jobs unless it is to punish the
community and the workers for its own bad decisions.
The employer is also questioning several things that
were already settled in the previous negotiations. We do not accept
this new demand nor do we agree to backtrack on what has already been
settled. It is not serious after six months of lockout to behave like
this. We want to hold real negotiations at the table and end this
conflict that is
harmful to the employer, workers and community.
We informed the mediator of the results of the
membership meeting on July 6. We are taking a break from mediation
for the week. Our picket lines remain strong; workers are calm.
Alexandre Fréchette, President, United
Steelworkers Local 9490 Speaks to Workers'
Locked-Out Steelworkers protest at ABI shareholders meeting in
Pittsburgh, May 9, 2018.
Local 9490 represents
workers at the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Alma, Quebec. President
Fréchette explained to Workers' Forum the efforts of his local
and others to defend
fellow workers locked out from their smelter Aluminerie de
Bécancour (ABI) since January 11.
I believe that ABI has galvanized the workers and the
union with the company's new demand for a cut in the collective
agreement of 20 per cent of the jobs that are certified union
jobs. The union received a 90 per cent vote of confidence after
six months of conflict that included the rejection of this new demand
by ABI. That is
quite a message the members have sent. There is real determination
displayed by this vote.
I think that what the company just did is not going to
be to its advantage. If it wanted to test the water, members sent the
message that they will only consider an offer that fully satisfies
them. I think it is a strategic mistake on the part of the company.
What the company wanted to do was scare the workers. Its aim was to
weaken the morale
of the membership. With a 90 per cent vote, that failed.
The workers are determined to satisfy their demands,
which in my opinion are fully justified. The company will end up with
union interlocutors who are even less inclined to compromise on their
demands. The company challenged the union bargaining committee and I
think they shot themselves in the foot. This makes settlement more
difficult for ABI.
The workers' vote, after months of lockout, is a matter
of great pride for me. For the labour movement, this is a message to
all the companies like this one. If the company does not take note of
it, it will be difficult for them because the union has more and more
support. I believe that this is the conflict in Quebec over the last
ten years that
has the broadest support from the other unions in Quebec. ABI workers
have mobilized and supported other workers in their struggles and they
are now receiving that support back.
The financial support
barometer is there but it is not just about money. There are plenty of
people who are following what is happening and who support the ABI
workers in many ways, including financially. Alcoa-Rio Tinto (the joint
owners of ABI) needs to take note of the powerful message that the
union members just sent. It needs to
sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate seriously and find a
settlement because it will become more difficult otherwise. Alcoa-Rio
Tinto must stop gambling that workers are going to collapse because it
will not happen. It has to stop thinking about scaring people. It must
abandon these manipulative schemes because in any case the issue will
have to be sorted out at the bargaining table.
As far as we are concerned, we feel a strong bond with
the workers of ABI. We stay close. We keep ourselves informed. This
dispute is our dispute. We have raised support everywhere. The aluminum
unions from coast to coast support them. ABI workers have received
financial support from workers at the Kitimat smelter on the west
all the way to the Baie Comeau aluminum smelter, the easternmost
smelter in Canada. This support is precedent-setting. As far as we are
concerned, we are doing everything we can to get support. It is a
reflex that we are developing that goes beyond Alcoa and Rio Tinto.
What we are doing, and for us the eye opener was the
lockout in Alma in 2012, is saying that support must be automatic,
that when one member of your family is fighting you go to your members,
explain the issues, and get a recurring financial contribution. You have to come up with a
mechanism whereby if you are ready to fight, do not worry, the aluminum
unions are going to be behind you. It is the case in aluminum and it is
also being developed in steel, in other big multinationals.
Even the small locals where people do not earn a lot of
money are making recurring contributions. Brick by brick, in the end we
will have built a wall against these companies. And there will be
others after. In Alma, we voted for a support fund for the other unions
so that it would be automatic. We increased our dues so that we are
help workers who are fighting. We give $25 per worker per week to
the ABI workers, a sum of $15,000 a week. Arvida (smelter local)
gives $20,000 a week. All aluminum unions give a recurring amount.
The importance of it being recurrent money is that the workers can plan
and the companies can no longer bet on the
financial capacity of an individual union to fight these battles
head-on. Workers suffer a loss of income but they are not in the
street, they can plan things and keep fighting as long as it is needed.
This is well established now in the Steelworkers' union and because of
our 2012 conflict we have developed links with other unions and we
trying to get it going everywhere. There is no need for these to be
huge amounts. They can be modest amounts but recurring. This is to
prevent a trade union that has chosen to fight from being forced to
accept concessions for financial reasons.
Regarding the conflict at ABI, the quicker that
Alcoa-Rio Tinto takes note of the message sent to them, the sooner it
sits down at the table with a serious mandate, the better it will be.
Its negotiators will talk with people who are open-minded, who are able
to find solutions to the conflict so that communities, workers, cities,
the Mauricie and
eventually Quebec stop suffering from this hostage-taking.
1. Workers at the Rio Tinto
aluminum smelter in Alma, Lac-Saint-Jean went through a 6-month
lockout in 2012. They mobilized strong support in Quebec and
throughout Canada, including steelworkers at U.S. Steel in Hamilton and
internationally. With financial and other assistance from fellow
workers, Alma workers were
particularly successful in restricting the subcontracting of their jobs
to workers who would have worked side by side with them doing the same
tasks but at wages and working conditions drastically inferior.
Coquitlam Strike Struggle Continues
BC Casino Workers Reject Tentative Agreement
Workers from other unions join in solidarity rally with Hard Rock
May 25, 2018.
Striking casino workers at Hard Rock Casino in
Coquitlam, BC have rejected a tentative mediated agreement between
their union, the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) and
the parent company, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. The
approximately 400 workers who attend table games and slot machines
well as work in the kitchen, guest services, the count room, theatre
and security walked off the job on May 11 this year. They are
seeking wages and benefits acceptable to themselves, as well as
improved working conditions and working hours. Some of the workers have
not had wage increases for over ten years and must hold down other
jobs to make ends meet. Frequently workers are sent home in mid shift.
Casino workers generally throughout BC are paid wages only marginally
above the legal minimum wage of $12.65 per hour yet live in a
province with skyrocketing housing and other costs of living.
The workers joined the BCGEU in May 2016 and have
been trying to negotiate a first contract since January 2017. The
company refuses to offer wages and benefits acceptable to the workers
despite announcing a 62 per cent increase in gross income for the
first quarter of this year over the same period last year. In February
the workers voted 99.5 per cent in favour of job action.
BCGEU president Stephanie Smith is quoted in the Tri-City
News July 6 saying, "They voted to reject the
agreement and continue to fight on the picket lines and I support them
on that. There was too much uncertainty around job protection and
layoffs." The workers believe the company intends to phase out
gaming tables in favour of less work intensive slot machines resulting
in numerous layoffs and mostly lower paid jobs.
Several days after the strike began the company resumed
operations but activists from the Workers' Centre of CPC (M-L) noted
numerous vehicles turning around and leaving after the occupants
discussed the situation with the determined picketers. Parking lots
appear to be largely empty and strikers report that business has become
significantly less than usual.
Meanwhile, resistance to low pay and poor working
conditions throughout the casino sector has spread to the Okanagan.
Casino workers in Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops, also members
of the BCGEU, went on strike on June 29. The 700 workers
voted 93 per cent in favour of job action to defend their rights
and dignity in opposition to the intransigence of the owners, Gateway
Casinos and Entertainment.
The casino and entertainment business is very
profitable but the owners and operators are consumed with the aim to
expropriate as much profit as possible at the expense of their workers.
The owners reject the workers' claim for dignified working and living
conditions. Workers are entirely just in organizing and fighting to
defend their rights.
People should actively support fellow workers on strike and boycott
those businesses behind a picket line until workers have reached a
settlement agreeable to themselves and return to work. With mutual
support and solidarity, working people can increase their collective
and individual strength in the struggle to defend the rights of all.
The 400 Hard Rock Casino workers and the 700 striking
workers in the Okanagan are defending themselves and their rights.
Their courageous refusal to be pressured into giving up their just
struggle inspires others who face their predicament in BC. Service
workers throughout BC in all its varied sectors are determined to
organize powerful expressions of what they deserve by right. This is
how to defend not only their rights but the rights of all. They deserve
the support of all BC unions and working people.
Striking casino workers at Playtime Casino in Kelowna picket, July 4,
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