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A Lockout Is Not an ‘Act of God:’ Rally Supports ABI Workers

MONTREAL – Hundreds of aluminum workers and their supporters demonstrated outside Hydro-Québec’s head office today, denouncing the 11-month lockout at the ABI smelter which has cost Quebecers nearly $200 million because it is categorized as an ‘Act of God.’

“The government of Quebec must put an end to these hydro contracts that equate lockouts of working people to ‘Acts of God.’ A lockout is a deliberate decision by an employer to force workers to accept lower working and living standards,” said Daniel Boyer, President of the Quebec Federation of Labour (Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec - FTQ).

Today’s demonstration was organized by the FTQ and the United Steelworkers (Syndicat des Métallos), which represents the 1,030 workers who have been locked out of their jobs at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour since January. The ABI smelter is co-owned by global aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

The FTQ and Steelworkers have called on Quebec Premier François Legault and his government to end the practice of allowing corporations that lock out workers to suspend their contractual obligations to publicly owned Hydro-Québec. To date, the lockout of ABI workers has deprived Hydro-Québec – and by extension all Quebecers – of more than $188 million in revenues.

“The Legault government must use its power to confront these multinationals and prevent them from forcing Quebecers to pay for attacks on the living and working standards of Quebec workers,” Boyer said.

Today’s rally began outside Alcoa’s corporate offices in Montreal before demonstrators marched to Hydro-Québec headquarters.

“This disgraceful lockout is an affront not only to the 1,030 locked-out ABI workers and their families, but to union members across Quebec,” Steelworkers Quebec Director Alain Croteau told the demonstrators.

“Alcoa, an American corporation, is trying to impose its own rules here. It is trampling on the principle of seniority and reneging on issues that were previously agreed to during negotiations,” Croteau said. “But Quebec workers are standing together. They’re sending a clear message to Alcoa and Rio Tinto executives: the Steelworkers at ABI are not kneeling before them.”

Today’s demonstration was held as negotiations between the Steelworkers and ABI are scheduled to continue until Friday with the assistance of special mediator Lucien Bouchard. If a tentative agreement is not reached, the Quebec government has indicated it will present a proposed settlement to the parties by Dec. 7.

“Current Hydro-Québec contracts with their ‘force majeure’ clauses are clearly creating a power imbalance in labour-management relations,” said Clément Masse, President of Steelworkers Local 9700, representing the locked-out ABI employees.

“There certainly would be more pressure on the company to resume production if it had to abide by its contractual obligations for electricity purchases with Hydro-Québec. That being said, we are still at the bargaining table showing our commitment to negotiate in good faith. We are still hoping that we can achieve a negotiated settlement,” Masse said.

The ABI employees were locked out on Jan. 11, even though the union believed a settlement was achievable, with only two key issues outstanding – pension plan funding and seniority rights related to personnel transfers.

The lockout is costing Hydro-Québec nearly $600,000 a day, as ABI has been allowed to invoke a ‘force majeure’ or ‘Act of God’ clause to suspend its contractual obligations.

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For further information:

Clairandrée Cauchy, United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos (Montreal), 514-774-4001, ccauchy@metallos.ca
Jean Laverdière, FTQ, 514-893-7809
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications (Toronto), 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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