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Building Power in Alcoa

10 May, 2013Developing an action plan that increases the influence of workers in Alcoa, the world’s largest producer of primary Aluminum was the objective of the latest trade union network meeting in Pittsburgh.

The meeting brought together unions from Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. The unions had a one-day network meeting and subsequently attended the Alcoa annual shareholders meeting.

Stopping Alcoa from its union busting activities in North America was also a primary concern. The company, which has constructive relations with unions in the majority of its locations, seems in denial when confronted on the issue. In order to support ongoing organizing drives throughout Alcoa members of the network had developed a leaflet to support unionization. Aimed at giving the unions more visibility in Alcoa and helping potential new members overcome the fear factor of joining. The fact is there are more unionized workers in Alcoa than non-union.

Leo Gerard President United Steelworkers said “There is a danger that this issue if not addressed can poison our relationship with the company”. Despite the union busting the USW have recently won recognition in a new facility and have outstanding Labor board charges against the company in several others.

During the meeting Klaus Kleinfeld CEO of Alcoa insisted that the company wanted constructive relations with its unions and agreed to further dialogue with the USW to clarify the situation.

Following two fatalities in 2012 both unions and management also identified Health and Safety as an area of common concern and a potential area for greater cooperation. Both parties seemed willing to explore the possibilities of a new mechanism to improve safety conditions in Alcoa.  This idea was reinforced during the Alcoa Shareholders meeting when Klaus Kleinfeld accepted an offer from the unions during a question and answer session to work together in a new way.  He strongly indicated that this should happen sooner rather than later and challenged the unions to follow up. The union network, are already doing this and hope that progress will be made shortly.

Rob Johnston Executive Director, Base Metals, IndustriALL commented “We have made our position on safety clear, we have publically stated our willingness to work jointly to improve performance, management seem open to this. I hope that this openness translates into an agreement sooner rather than later”.

Alcoa, which has 61,000 employees in 181 locations worldwide, has recently undertaken a joint venture in Saudi Arabia, that when fully operational will be the world’s largest production facility. In order to capitalize on its highly skilled workforce worldwide Alcoa wants to carry out local training. In Saudi Arabia, the union network which represents workers asked to go has requested that a small team visit the facility to carry out a study on safety and welfare conditions for workers.