In the News
Quebec Workers Speak Out About Achievements in 2021 and Challenges in the New Year
– Éric Drolet, President, USW Local 9700,
ABI Aluminum Smelter in Bécancour –
We lived through a conflict — a lockout that lasted 18 months — that was widely publicized and ended on July 2, 2019. It left a lot of scars and I have already spoken about it in Workers’ Forum. I must admit that the biggest challenge we had in 2021, which is still not resolved, was trying to turn the page.
Turning the page is easier said than done, as moving on, taking the next step, is more difficult. I’m the first to sometimes have to convince myself to try to turn the page because, as president of the union, I’m required to work with the people who laid me off for 18 months. I’m talking to the exact same people who were at the bargaining table. The workers feel the same way, which is reflected in the day-to-day working relations at all levels.
We’ve had to deal with some issues and we’ve made some headway, but we’re dealing with an employer who is clearly anti-union, even though they claim otherwise in their communications. Despite all the window-dressing, they’re not there for their workers or the community.
Unfortunately, what I am summarizing here is what is happening in many workplaces. Today, workplace management is about a column of numbers rather than the human side.
With what everyone has experienced with the pandemic, it’s the human side that should have been more prominent, but at the Bécancour aluminum smelter, it was sorely lacking. The employer had to be brought back to order big time in 2021.
I won’t get into the debate of whether we are for or against vaccination. When you work at a plant like ours or in any work environment, irrespective of whether you believe something or not, there are rules established by public health and rules put in place by the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board that you must follow.
It would be hard for me as union president to defend health and safety rules tooth and nail on a daily basis and then say that I can’t respect the public health rules that have been established. I can’t have it both ways.
It has been difficult to get some of my members to understand that this may go beyond what they want to hear and see put in place as safety rules regarding the pandemic. I’ve had to have heated discussions with members in a way I never thought would happen. I’d say that I have had to go deeply on a human level not to lose certain friendships. I and all my members have experienced this.
What I want in 2022 is to get the employer to understand that when they run out of arguments, it could mean that they are wrong and that threats of reprisals in cases of insubordination are not the answer.
Since we’ve been back to work following the end of the lockout, the employer has been using this willy-nilly. As soon as they run out of arguments, they issue accusations of insubordination and then disciplinary measures are taken, even though they know very well that they are trying to impose things that make no sense. My wife works in a hospital and exactly the same thing happens in her environment. It’s not normal that the pressure is always on the shoulders of the workers.
Employers must find arguments, establish communication, more viable working relations that do not always result in disciplinary measures and threats. An end must be put to looking for scapegoats for our problems and instead we must look for solutions.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 24, 2022. Translated from original French by Workers’ Forum.)