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Steelworkers Accuse Alcoa of Bad Faith Bargaining

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. – The United Steelworkers has filed a formal complaint with Quebec’s Administrative Labour Tribunal alleging bad faith bargaining against aluminum giant Alcoa and management of its ABI smelter in Bécancour.

Quebec’s Labour Code requires that parties must engage in negotiations “diligently and in good faith,” noted Clément Masse, President of United Steelworkers (Syndicat des Métallos) Local 9700, representing 1,030 employees at the ABI smelter who have been locked out of their jobs since January.

However, “Alcoa is not behaving in a way that seeks a negotiated settlement,” Masse said. He cited the company for reneging on previous commitments at the bargaining table and making demands for new concessions, as well as announcing on Wednesday that it was shutting down half of the remaining pot line operating at the ABI smelter.

The decision to further cut back production at ABI shows outright contempt for a mediation process initiated by the Quebec government to try to resolve the lockout, he added. In early November, the government appointed a special mediation council, chaired by former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, to help the parties reach a negotiated settlement, with a deadline set for today.

“By cutting the remaining production in half, 48 hours before the deadline for negotiations set by the Labour Minister, the company has sent a signal that it is not taking the negotiation process seriously,” Masse said.

“Indeed, the shutdown of half of the remaining pot line increases the cost of the lockout and the time required to restart the plant," he noted.

“A company that reneges on clauses that are already signed off and that makes demands for more concessions is not acting in good faith,” said Dominic Lemieux, Assistant to the Steelworkers’ Quebec Director.

“The government appointed a special mediator last spring, then a mediation council on Nov. 7, giving an ultimatum to reach a negotiated settlement. Alcoa decided not to take this opportunity to engage in a constructive process,” Lemieux said.

The Steelworkers union has denounced a fundamental imbalance in the negotiations, with ABI allowed to use its lockout of workers to invoke a ‘force majeure’ or Act of God clause to avoid paying for $200 million in electricity commitments to the publicly owned utility Hydro-Québec.

“The company's losses are being covered by Quebecers. That is $200 million less in royalties for Hydro-Québec's coffers, which could require an increase in hydro rates for all Quebecers. This $200-million gift allows ABI to reduce its losses. The government has created the conditions that encourage ABI to negotiate in bad faith," said Steelworkers Quebec Director Alain Croteau.

Alcoa owns a 75% stake in the ABI smelter, with Rio Tinto owning the remaining 25%.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto opted to lock out the 1,030 ABI employees on Jan. 11 even though the union believed a negotiated settlement was within reach over the outstanding issues of pension plan financing and seniority rights in personnel transfers.

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For further information:

Clairandrée Cauchy, United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, 514-774-4001, ccauchy@metallos.ca

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Clairandrée Cauchy
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