Strike at Glencore's Brunswick Smelter in Belledune, New Brunswick

Workers Stand Up for Their Rights and Dignity

In the early evening of April 24, the 281 production and maintenance workers at the Glencore Brunswick smelter in Belledune, New Brunswick went on strike. The workers launched their strike to defend themselves against the concessionary demands of the Glencore mining and metallurgical monopoly. The smelter workers are members of United Steelworkers' Local 7085.

The workers met on April 4 and 5 to discuss the situation and decide on a course of action with participation at close to 100 per cent. Ninety-six per cent voted to withdraw their capacity to work beginning April 24 at 6 pm. When workers for the dayshift arrived the morning before the evening strike, company officials forcibly prevented them from entering the plant under the hoax that the security and safety of operations was threatened.

Two days later, the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick on behalf of the Glencore oligarchs issued a court order limiting the number of picketers to six at the entrances or exits of the smelter and at any other geographical location in New Brunswick where Glencore conducts business. The court also ordered the workers not to obstruct in any way any movement of employees, customers, suppliers and others to and from the plant or to "harass" them including a prohibition of taking photographs. The court further ordered workers not to in any way obstruct the movement of rail cars to and from the plant, which employs in total 450 people.

President of Local 7085 Bart Dempsey said the main dispute with the company is on the issue of health and safety. Glencore is demanding that the paid full-time position of the union co-chair of the joint health and safety committee be transformed into a part-time position. The full-time position was created after a strike in 1991, when health and safety was addressed.

President Dempsey told Workers' Forum, "They are trying to get rid of our full-time safety rep. They are trying to get rid of his office. That is a big key issue to the workers. There are a lot of health and safety issues in a smelter like ours. We are working with molten metal, high traffic equipment areas, overhead cranes, you name it. Plus all the chemicals you have to deal with. We've got a dangerous workplace."

Workers on the picket lines told the media that under Glencore's management the smelter has become an even more hazardous workplace. In this situation, the workers say that having a full-time union representative on site whom they can consult to determine whether a job is safe to perform or not is important.

In a further attack on the right of workers to have a prominent union presence at the workplace, Glencore wants to stop paying for a full-time president of the local. In downgrading the union presence, the company wants to pay only for a certain amount of hours for the President to engage in union business outside of his regular hours.

According to the union, Glencore also has concessionary demands concerning the pension plans and benefits. The biggest hit for workers in terms of the pension plans would be the elimination of the voluntary early retirement plan, which allows members of the defined benefits (DB) plan to retire before turning 65 with a certain number of years worked and still receive their full pension. If the arrangement is eliminated, DB plan members who choose to retire early would be subject to a provincial regulation that reduces their pension amount by six per cent per year ahead of when they are scheduled to retire. To receive their full pension, they would have to work until they are 65, no matter how many years they have spent at the metal smelter, which everyone knows takes an enormous toll on a worker's health.

The elimination of the current early retirement process would be yet another hit for workers after the company forced a major change to their pension plan during the previous negotiations. For the current four-year contract, which took effect in 2015, the company shut down the DB plan to employees with less than 12 years seniority at the smelter and switched them over to an inferior defined contribution arrangement.

Glencore also wants to reduce employees' health, dental and drug coverage.

In response, the workers firmly demand the dignity and respect they deserve for the hard work they do in the lead/silver/copper smelter. Concessions on health and safety and pensions are unacceptable. Signs on the picket line include: "Hands Off Our Union Reps!"; "Hands Off Our Pensions!" and "Bullying Has to Stop!"

President Dempsey informed Workers' Forum that since the signing of the last contract in 2014, Glencore has terminated 32 workers for various reasons, many of them under the inhumane legal doctrine of "frustration of employment contract," which translates into termination due to injury or illness of workers who are on long-term disability. That is a trademark of Glencore's labour relations and is what workers are aiming to stop with their strike, Dempsey said.

(Photo: USW District 6)

This article was published in

Number 16 - May 2, 2019

Article Link:
Strike at Glencore's Brunswick Smelter in Belledune, New Brunswick: Workers Stand Up for Their Rights and Dignity


Website:   Email: