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ABI aluminum smelter workers in Quebec to vote July 2 on 'final offer' from Alcoa

New York — Locked-out union workers at the Aluminerie de Becancour aluminum smelter in Quebec, Canada, will meet 9 am EDT next Tuesday to consider and vote on a final offer Alcoa made to end the 18-month lockout at the facility, union officials said Thursday.

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Alcoa Wednesday made what it called a "final offer" and gave the United Steelworkers Local 9700 until July 5 to either accept or reject it. If accepted, a restart process and return to work would begin July 26; if rejected, Alcoa would begin the process of "fully curtailing the smelter" immediately.

One union source declined to comment further, but another USW source, who asked not to be identified, said the offer looked to be an improvement on previous offers, "but not much."

This source said the offer would be presented to the workforce and then a vote would be held. The result of a vote was likely to be known by midafternoon Tuesday.

ABI put out a separate statement Wednesday saying the offer, if approved, would provide more pension funding, "reduce subcontracting and allocate more paid hours for union business than the last offer, which was rejected in March."

It said the final offer also includes a plan to bring employees back to work sooner than in previous offers, and provide benefits to workers on the recall list.

At a press conference at Becancour Wednesday, ABI said: "This proposed contract would get all employees back to work sooner and according to a defined schedule. The contract calls for the restart to officially begin on July 26, lasting about 10 months."

It said 85% of workers would be back to work within six months of the restart date and everyone would be back by eight months from the restart.

"For those not back on the job within five months of the restart date, ABI will pay those employees C$635 ($485) per week after taxes, the same amount currently paid by the union," ABI said.

It also said it would allocate 8,000 hours for employees to conduct union business.

ABI is the largest primary aluminum smelter in North America, with nameplate capacity of 413,000 mt/year on three potlines, but was understood to be operating at a 450,000 mt capacity before the lockout began in January 2018.

Salaried employees at ABI continued to operate the smelter at one-third capacity after the lockout began with one potline until December, when Alcoa announced it was curtailing half of the 138,000 mt/year capacity still in production.

Alcoa owns 74.95% of ABI. Rio Tinto Aluminum owns the remaining 25.05%.

"We've reached a critical juncture in this process -- we want to resolve the conflict for the benefit of all parties and work together to restart our smelter and get everyone back to work," said Jean-Francois Cyr, president of Alcoa Canada in ABI's statement Wednesday.

Gervais Jacques, managing director of Rio Tinto Canada, said: "We all share the goal of restarting this facility and ensuring its long-term competitiveness."

Earlier this month, a union source said Alcoa was preparing to idle the smelter. At the time, an Alcoa spokesman said the company continued to "work to reach a new labor agreement that will improve ABI for the long term."

Union workers at another Alcoa smelter in Quebec, Baie-Comeau, ratified June 1 a new six-year contract covering around 700 members of the Canadian union Syndicat des National Employes I'Aluminum De Baie-Comeau, replacing the old contract, which expired May 31.

Alcoa is also in the middle of labor negotiations for various facilities in the US.

-- Anthony Poole, anthony.poole@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com