Unacceptable Move by Government to Impose Concessions Demanded by Alcoa on ABI Workers

Quebec Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity Jean Boulet submitted a settlement proposal and back-to-work protocol on April 17 to the management of Aluminerie de Bécancour Inc. (ABI) and USW Local 9700 representing ABI workers. Boulet presented his proposal knowing full well that ABI workers had massively rejected an almost identical one only weeks before. One could surmise from this that the Quebec government is engaged in an information war against the smelter workers on behalf of Alcoa, and seeks to excuse its unwillingness to force the monopoly to pay Hydro-Québec for its contracted electricity during the long lockout and come to a negotiated settlement with workers agreeable to them.

With this deceptive manoeuvre the government appears in partnership with Alcoa and its unjust 16-month lockout to force concessions on workers that would destroy their union and seriously undermine the well-being of their community. The deceit surrounding the government settlement proposal was quickly confirmed a few days later with ABI management's acceptance of it as a "framework" to reach a final agreement to end the lockout and restart the plant.

USW Local 9700 denounced the settlement proposal as a "copy-and-paste of the last employer's offer rejected by our members" on March 11. Similar to Alcoa's offer, Local 9700 found the government's proposal an unacceptable attack on the main issues of organization of work, working hours, the pension plan, respect for seniority, the use of subcontracting and the abolition of jobs. The union said it would inform its members of the content of the proposal but would not hold a general meeting to vote on something already rejected by an 82 per cent vote at a meeting with a turnout of 90 per cent of members.

In words that best describe the content of the government's unhelpful proposal, President of USW Local 9700 Clément Masse spoke to Workers' Forum following the March 11 membership meeting and vote to reject Alcoa's similar offer and back-to-work protocol:

"The workers said that this is not a negotiated agreement and accepting such an agreement is like saying you do not have a union anymore, that the employer can do whatever it wants. The offer that the employer presented shows a lack of respect for us and it is the same as regards the back-to-work protocol. We have built our union and we have built our contracts over the years, and we do not agree that we should lose everything because the employer wants to smash the union. That is what came out of the interventions at the mic; that we are still able to stand up and will not accept just anything even after 14 months. It is not true that the employer can impose its way of doing things on us. They will have to sit down and negotiate and show respect for the workers. The workers have also targeted the energy deal with Alcoa that is hurting us and doing nothing but prolonging the conflict."

Masse reiterated this sentiment in a statement issued by the ABI workers on the evening of March 11:

"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 its 14-month lockout. 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 Quebeckers by making them pay for its lockout, it disrespects workers by closing the door on negotiation as well as arbitration. The government of Quebec must intervene. The imbalance of power is unacceptable and the behaviour of this multinational is unacceptable."

This article was published in

Number 16 - May 2, 2019

Article Link:
Unacceptable Move by Government to Impose Concessions Demanded by Alcoa on ABI Workers


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