April 4, 2019
Demands ABI Workers Make More Concessions
All Out to Defend
the Rights and
Dignity of ABI Workers!
Locked-out ABI workers in front of National Assembly, March 27, 2019.
Workers' Energy March Declares Forcefully: "The Lockout Is Not a 'Force
Majeure'; ABI Must Pay What It Owes!"
• Union Submits Counter-Offer to Alcoa/Rio
Against Untenable Conditions in Health Care
• Quebec Nurses' "No Mandatory Overtime" Day of
Action on April 8
• Nova Scotians Demand a Modern Health Care
System Fit for Human Beings
Quebec Premier Demands ABI Workers Make
"Alcoa impoverishes Quebec."
On April 1, Quebec Premier François Legault met
representatives of the locked-out ABI workers from Bécancour and
management, including the President of the Alcoa Business Unit from
Pittsburgh. He tweeted after the meetings:
"Meetings with the President of the union at ABI in
the President of Alcoa, the main owner of ABI. ABI has been in a labour
dispute for 15 months. Management is offering an average salary of
$92,000 per year to 900 employees. The union has to compromise."
Neither the union nor management have ever referred to
wages as a point
of contention at this time. The main issue is Alcoa's aim to wreck any
negotiated norms regarding the pension and working conditions,
especially the right of workers to retain unionized work rather than
have most work contracted out under the neo-liberal line of
flexibility and global competition. Alcoa wants to destroy any
organized presence of workers in defence of their rights and of those
replacing them upon retirement.
USW Local 9700 President
Clément Masse pointed out that the union
presented a clear case to the Premier, which made no mention of a wage
dispute, nor did the Premier raise with them any issues of wages or
with the company. Nonetheless, Premier Legault issued his tweet
and publicly declared to the press that the union was not being
reasonable and that $92,000-per-year
jobs could be lost.
It is unconscionable for the Premier to attempt to
discredit the union's just positions by adopting the provocative
methods and dictate for concessions of the foreign oligopoly. It
creates an even greater
between the global oligarchs of Alcoa and the workers, and reinforces
the company's dictate rather than creating the possibility of
negotiations. It underscores the difficult situation in which ABI
community, Quebec and, more broadly, workers across Canada and
The Premier's comments on wages counts on mobilizing
workers who get minimum wage to shun the ABI union. This seeks to
undermine the mass movement in support of the ABI workers
and distort the issues at hand. Legault's nonsense over
wages at ABI, which are basically the same wages in place at all
other aluminum smelters in Quebec and Canada, is completely out of
touch with the actual conflict and an indication of how his government,
in the name of opening of Quebec to business, sides with the
oligopolies against the workers.
Neo-liberalism demands all norms be destroyed in the
of flexibility and competition. Alcoa is intent on transforming the
conditions under which the company hires, uses and deploys workers,
without being limited by legally binding agreements that have been
negotiated and approved by the workers. The back-to-work protocol
Alcoa tried to dictate to the workers is an example, which they
massively rejected in a general membership meeting on March 11. Not
only did that protocol officially extend the period over which workers
would return to work to 10 months, it allowed the company to suspend or
even annul the protocol, if it so desired, based on criteria it could
invoke at any time. In other words, no actual back-to-work protocol was
presented but rather a company dictate. The conflict would have been
declared finished, the workers theoretically called back to work,
however in actual fact, they could very well have not been recalled at
all, not to mention the fact that during all that time managers and
subcontractors would continue working as if no unionized workforce even
existed with legal norms and a collective agreement.
Alcoa has achieved such arrangements in the state of
Australia where the Australian labour relations tribunal (the Fair Work
Commission) ruled in favour of Alcoa's demand to terminate the
collective agreement of 1,500 workers, under the hoax that it did not
provide the company the neo-liberal "flexibility" it required to remain
competitive on global markets. Those Alcoa workers have effectively had
their union and collective agreement declared legally null and void and
are now working under the minimum standards of Australia's labour laws
without any organized protection that they control.
Alcoa's dominant position in the
global sector allows it to shut down certain operations globally while
maintaining supply from other facilities to enforce its dictate, a
situation reinforced by neo-liberal governments that serve private
Alcoa's lockout and refusal to enter into negotiations
with the ABI
workers and their union, and its demands for concessions in working
conditions and the role of the union are also being justified in the
name of flexibility and competition, which Premier Legault has now
Premier's Legault's stand must not pass. It
puts the people in an untenable position
without control of their resources and any say on the direction of the
ultimately means all political affairs. It places government and the
police powers of the state in the service of the global financial
opposition to the rights and well-being of the people.
To go down the road of unrestricted power for the
their economic and political dictatorship is not acceptable. Working
people, youth and students across Quebec and Canada support the
struggle of the ABI
workers in defence of their rights and dignity. This struggle and its
outcome have broad implications for all working people, organized and
unorganized, whose future lies in upholding the dignity of labour and
defending the rights of all.
1. See "The 'Legal' Termination of
Collective Agreements -- Australian Example," Pierre Chénier, Workers'
Forum, February 28, 2019.
Quebec City, March 27, 2019.
Locked-out Bécancour ABI aluminum smelter workers
organized an Energy March in Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, on
March 26 and 27. The purpose was twofold:
- demand the Legault government do its duty to
intervene so that the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel ends the lockout in a
manner acceptable to the workers;
- demand the energy contract between Alcoa, the
government and Hydro-Québec be re-opened so that Alcoa pays in
its reserved preferential rate energy block.
The workers made it abundantly clear that in no way
does the lockout, planned and decreed by the company itself, constitute
a "force majeure" or "Act of God," that would free it of its
responsibility to pay for its reserved electricity. ABI must pay what
it owes Hydro-Québec and the people!
Trois-Rivières -- March 26
Two hundred ABI workers marched two hours to the riding
office of Labour Minister Jean Boulet in Trois-Rivières. From
there, they marched another two hours through the city's streets.
Throughout their action, people warmly greeted them, shook their hands,
waved and honked their horns
in appreciation of the determined stand of the ABI workers in defence
of their rights and the interests of Quebec.
United Steelworkers' Local 9700 President
Clément Masse spoke to the workers during the march. He reminded
everyone that prior to the Quebec election, Premier François
Legault said that Alcoa's demands for concessions and refusal to
negotiate a contract acceptable to workers could not be considered
serious. If that is so, why has the
Premier not acted to enforce the energy contract? The time to act is
"The lockout has lasted for so long, over 14 months and
counting, because ABI is not fully assuming the economic consequences
of its decision. In 2018 alone, Alcoa was able to save $165 million at
the expense of Hydro-Québec and Quebeckers. As citizens, it is
outrageous to see that our government is complicit in the lockout,"
said. As of March 30, 2019, Alcoa owes $275 million to
electricity set aside for it under a long-term contract giving the
company preferential hydro rates.
Quebec City -- March 27
Hundreds of workers from Quebec City, the Beauce region,
Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and from as far away as Fermont on the North
Shore were waiting at Quebec's National Assembly on March 27, to greet
with affection the arriving delegation of 300 ABI workers.
Present amongst the
assembled workers were members and representatives of many unions
including the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Union of Postal
Workers, the Teamsters, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Retirees from Arcelor Mittal in Contrecoeur were also in attendance, as
were students from Laval University,
who announced a donation of $600 for ABI workers.
Several speakers addressed the crowd. Clément
Masse said that Premier Legault in comments to the press dismissed the
energy contract and its "force majeure" clause allowing Alcoa to evade
its social responsibility to pay what it owes to Hydro-Québec as
Someone pointed out that the amount in arrears to
Hydro-Québec is now $275 million, which can hardly be termed
Clément said the Premier must do his duty, "show
leadership, modify the clause and re-balance the power between
ourselves and our employer." The fact that Alcoa is not paying for its
electricity block explains in part why it is able to take such a hard
line and demand sweeping anti-labour, anti-union concessions and
systematically refuse to
negotiate an end to the lockout, he added.
During the actions it was announced that Premier
Legault would meet with the union and company representatives on
Monday, April 1. Before the meeting even took place however, the
Premier in a most boorish manner stated his anti-worker position. He
told the media that he expects the union to make further concessions
and that he will not
touch the energy contract. These statements are totally unacceptable
and reveal the government not as representative of Quebec working
people but of foreign private interests out to enrich themselves at the
expense of Quebec workers and the nation's natural resources.
Many point out that even though the energy contract is
a one-sided dictate giving monopolies such as Alcoa and other big
industrial cartels electricity at a price below the price of
production, the contract in question states that a lockout is a "force
majeure" releasing Alcoa from paying for the electricity only if the
interruption in production is an "unforeseeable, irresistible event
beyond the control of a Party that delays, interrupts or impedes the
performance, in whole or in part, by that Party of its obligations
under the Contract." This lockout is the doing of the company and its
continuation is the doing of the company.
The ABI lockout was planned from A to Z to attack the
workers, the community and the union. The lockout was completely
foreseeable and is completely under the control of Alcoa, which is
using it to extort anti-worker concessions that are unacceptable in
this modern age.
The Lockout Is not a Force Majeure; ABI
Must Pay What It Owes!
ABI Lockout Now on Terms Acceptable to the Workers!
Energy March, Trois-Rivières, March 26, 2019.
The Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel has now locked out around
1,000 workers represented by the United Steelworkers Local 9700 from
their Bécancour aluminum smelter for more than 14 months. On
March 21, Local 9700 submitted a full counter-offer for a collective
agreement to the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel to end the lockout. The
the opinion of the union includes significant compromises while
preserving the union's essential demands.
The two main compromises
relate to the pension plan and cuts to unionized positions through
attrition. In its counter-offer the union accepts the cartel's request
for the elimination of the existing defined-benefit pension plan and
its replacement by a member-funded pension plan with defined benefits.
The essential difference between the two
plans, according to the union, is that while the workers' pension
benefits remain defined in the new plan, the employer's contribution is
fixed and the risks related to the funding of the plan are borne by the
The other concession is the acceptance of the reduction
by attrition of 103 unionized positions. This represents about
one-tenth of the total unionized workforce of the company. The union
reported earlier that the demand for reduction in positions made by the
cartel in July 2018 was on the order of 20 per cent of the unionized
workforce. In its
press release announcing the counter-offer, the union says that it
maintains its demand for seniority in filling job postings and labour
mobility within the plant.
The union is presenting this counter-offer with the aim
of bringing the employer to the bargaining table to end the lockout by
negotiating a collective agreement that the workers will find
acceptable within the circumstances. The workers are in a very
difficult situation because the owners' cartel has refused to negotiate
since the start of the lockout and even long before that. There have
been no negotiations between the two parties since the beginning, just
a unilateral dictate by ABI management. The union reported that during
a conciliation session on April 3, ABI did not even see fit to respond
to the union's counter-offer and refused to hold negotiations with the
union. The necessity remains to pressure those in control to abandon
their anti-negotiation dictate, discuss and sign this counter-offer at
the bargaining table and end the lockout. Submission to enslaving
demands of the foreign oligarchs is not an option.
Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec (FIQ) joins
locked-out ABI workers on their picketline to express their solidarity,
April 3, 2019.
This makes it all the more important for workers in
Quebec and elsewhere to step up their support for the locked-out ABI
workers. Workers throughout Quebec and Canada and their allies amongst
the youth and other strata must forcefully express the broad public
demand that ABI management give up its dictate and negotiate a
agreement that is acceptable to the Bécancour workers. It
requires a concerted effort by all to send a clear message that the
cartel's anti-negotiation dictate to smash the organized defence of the
workers in the form of Local 9700 so as to destroy the existing terms
of employment will not pass!
Resolute Actions Against Untenable
Conditions in Health Care
Protest against poor working conditions including mandatory overtime,
March 28, 2019 outside health care human resources offices in
On April 8, nurses belonging to the Interprofessional
Federation of Quebec (FIQ) will be holding a No Mandatory Overtime Day
of Action, under the theme "Mandatory Overtime Has Gone On Long
Enough." At a press conference in Montreal on April 2, FIQ President
Nancy Bédard presented the action's aim: "On
April 8, health care professionals want to opt for their own physical
and mental health, their personal and family lives. Just like the vast
majority of the population, they want a normal work day, without risk
being taken hostage. That's the goal behind this unprecedented day [of
action]," she noted.
The FIQ President described
the systematic use of mandatory overtime as a form of organizational
violence against nurses.
"This practice has become an actual mode of management
undermines the rights of health care professionals and has a direct
impact on the quality and safety of care. April 8 should be a jolt to
managers in the network. When mandatory overtime is 'planned' in
advance, it is no longer an emergency. The code of conduct requires
overtime must be used as an exceptional and emergency measure, and this
is not currently the case. What should be an exceptional measure has
been established in many institutions as the current management system.
It is inhuman and dangerous for both health care professionals and
patients," she said.
According to the FIQ, the practice of mandatory
overtime goes far
beyond the issue of labour relations. It undermines the safety of care
and has a direct impact on patients. Women are the first victims of
mandatory overtime since they represent 90 per cent of the members of
the federation. Thousands of mothers, spouses and caregivers find
themselves forced to work extra shifts. Their profession is one where
this inhuman practice is rampant, and this, on a daily basis.
In a brief presented to the Quebec government in May
2018, the FIQ
states that in 2014-2015, Quebec nurses worked 4.5 million overtime
hours. Burnout among workers in the health system has reached an
unprecedented level. There is currently an explosion in the number of
disabilities for psychological diagnoses among workers in the
health network, including a 47 per cent increase at the Integrated
Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) in the Estrie; 35 per cent at
the McGill University Health Centre; and 31 per cent at the CISSS in
Montérégie-Est. According to the FIQ, overtime hours have
impact on the number of errors committed and the
systematic use of overtime significantly increases the risk of
mortality in hospitals, citing a four per cent increase in incidents
and accidents during the delivery of health care in Quebec facilities
One of the aims of the day is to make an urgent appeal
Minister of Health and Social Services to go beyond declarations and
take concrete action to end the mandatory overtime.
"However, this wish will remain unfulfilled if managers
required to make profound changes," said Nancy Bédard. "A clear
must be sent that the days are over when we put the whole functioning
of the health network on the shoulders of health care professionals. It
is urgent to act! We shared with the Minister a
multitude of solutions including the deployment of health care
professional-to-patient ratios through legislation. We hope there is
going to be a [marked difference] before and after April 8, 2019. We
are hopeful that this day will be one of significant change. If not, we
will continue our struggle and the next few months could be quite
concluded the FIQ President.
The FIQ represents close to 76,000 nurses, practical
respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists working in health
care facilities throughout Quebec.
The Nova Scotia
Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) organized a "Rally to
Raise the ALARM that Health Care for All Nova Scotians is in Crisis."
Prior to the rally at the Nova Scotia Legislature on April 3, Workers'
Forum interviewed NSGEU President
Jason MacLean on the aim of the action.
Workers' Forum: What is the aim
of the rally that you are holding on April 3?
Jason MacLean: We have organized
the rally to raise the alarm about the state of health care. Our
membership is demanding more advocacy happen and demanding that we be
heard at the Legislature. The McNeil government tabled its budget on
March 26 and we were hoping that there was going to be more funding in
it to support our frontline health care workers and social workers. The
budget is a huge disappointment, with truly not much new money for
health care and nothing for primary care, nothing to handle the
problems in home care, in long-term care and in the emergency
departments in hospitals.
Ultimately, we have issues throughout the health care
system. It starts at the emergency department where we have an over
abundance of people coming there, both because more people are in
poorer health today and, as well, many people do not have family
doctors and that is why they are going to emergency departments. This
overwhelming the emergency departments and people are being moved
around to other parts of the building so we have "hallway medicine."
Then, we have a shortage of health care professionals
including nurses, and on top of that we have an employer that began to
interpret overtime provisions differently in the last round of
bargaining. They are not paying people overtime at the same time as the
system is dependent on overtime hours. There are people working
constantly, but now they are only getting paid straight time because
they may have had a day off earlier in the pay period.
People are deterred from work; they do not want to work
because they do not feel valued at work, and on top of that they are
burnt out. Also, the severity level of patients is so high that more
people are being admitted to hospital. There have not been any new beds
in long-term care so people cannot be moved into long-term care so they
occupying beds in hospitals as well.
When people are sent home with home care there are not
enough Continuing Care Assistants (CCA); there are not enough home care
workers to be able to handle the load. Every agency is being told that
they cannot have a wait list but still people cannot get services they
need in time because there are not enough CCAs. Also, the way the
hours are organized, and the rate of pay, people tend to want to work
in an acute care setting or long-term care setting as opposed to
traveling across the city to people's homes to provide care.
We have a patient flow problem; we have too many
patients and nowhere to put them and nobody to care for them because
the people that care for them are being nickel and dimed by the
government and the employer. The health employer, the Nova Scotia
Health Authority (NSHA) is a colossal failure that Premier McNeil
he came into power. In this Health Authority, one hand does not know
what the other hand is doing. The Health Authority is more worried
about the bottom line than patient care or the well-being of their
WF: What are your demands?
JM: We want to work with the
government. I have asked the Minister of Health to come to the
Emergency Department and shadow health care professionals in any
emergency department for a day or go on a unit and shadow a nurse for a
day and see what goes on there. He is trying to deal with the
that we have at hospitals where the paramedics are stuck at hospitals
waiting for a patient that they have brought in to be taken in instead
of being in the community picking up people. People are waiting up to 6
to 12 hours to get an ambulance. So far he has not responded. He has
not gone to an Emergency Department to see what goes on.
We are saying that we need more health care
professionals, we need more nurses, we need more CCAs, we need more
long-term care beds. We need a lot of attention brought to the health
care system in general, but you will never be able to fix any type of
backlog without people. We need more doctors as well. The professionals
and the system has been starved for so long, it is almost like they are
purposely trying to do it to make our province's health care system
ripe for privatization.
I know there are issues. I know that the government
knows there are issues, but they do not acknowledge the issues. They
have never acknowledged that there is a crisis in health care. You
cannot talk to a doctor, a nurse, a health care professional, anybody
that works in a hospital, without them telling you that this system is
in crisis. That is
why we are holding a two-hour rally in front of the Legislature and we
are bringing attention to the crisis in health care.
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