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Management rejects USW proposal to restart Alcoa-controlled ABI Quebec aluminum smelter

  • Author
  • Bob Matyi
  • Editor
  • Richard Rubin
  • Commodity
  • Metals

Louisville, Kentucky — Management at the Alcoa majority-owned Aluminerie de Becancour aluminum smelter in Quebec Wednesday rejected the Canadian United Steelworkers union's latest counterproposal to end a nearly 15-month lockout and restart the facility,

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ABI said the union's counteroffer failed to address necessary requirements, including workforce stability, for a potential restart of the 450,000 mt/d smelter.

"ABI must implement permanent processes to ensure that experienced employees are consistently available for specific positions and reduce excessive internal transfers, which limit productivity and require continual training," the company said in an email. "Management offered a solution that would accomplish this while respecting seniority, but the union only proposed temporary solutions."

ABI's absenteeism rate is approximately 12%, roughly double the industry average, the company said. ABI said it has proposed measures to improve this that were accepted recently by the union. However, "they were not fully included in the counterproposal."

Clement Masse, president of USW Local 9700 at the smelter, said in an email that ABI showed up "empty-handed" at a scheduled Wednesday conciliation session, "with its chest puffed up, emboldened by the Premier's recent inappropriate statements that took sides against the workers." Masse added that the company "refused to resume formal negotiations" and threatened to close the last potline operating in the plant.

The union and company met separately last week with Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who was elected last fall. During the campaign, Legault stressed the need to resolve the January 2018 lockout that has idled 1,030 union workers and cut production at the smelter significantly.

The parties have agreed that a new pension plan be established, according to ABI, "but they differ on the level of contributions." ABI said it has offered to provide a minimum contribution of 12%, "which is the best among all similar plans in Quebec."

Masse said Legault now claims to be "powerless" to break existing energy contracts between ABI and Hydro Quebec, the provincially owned utility. Alcoa has declared the lockout an "act of God" to avoid its electricity purchasing commitments, a designation strongly opposed by the union.

Alcoa owns 75% of ABI, Rio Tinto the remaining 25%.

-- Bob Matyi, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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