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Cement workers in North America move forward in solidarity

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24 November, 2020IndustriALL North American affiliates organizing workers at multinational companies in the cement industry met online to discuss challenges in the industry.

The cement industry in North America has quickly recovered to pre-Covid levels, as cement and concrete are key in developing societies. However, this has not spared workers of challenges during the ongoing pandemic.

Globally since last year the problem of cement overcapacity production did not disappear and the overall picture in the landscape of the construction materials did not change considerably either. The top ten cement producers share 45 per cent of the entire world cement production capacity, with two Chinese companies, CNBM and Anhui Conch, on top. Combined their production capacity is equal to almost 900 million tons of cement yearly. 

COVID-19 became a trigger for many companies including in the building materials sector to scale up remote work and accelerate digitalization and automation, which in its turn requires reskilling of at least 50 per cent of the workforce in the next five years by the OECD assessment.  

With the initial spread of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns, came a slowdown of the industry, accompanied by layoffs both in US and Canada. But since June-July, the construction sector, and together with it cement and concrete production, went back to normal. So most of the previously laid off workers were called back to work. Moreover, many noted a considerable increase in working hours and in some cases even a slight shortage of cement due to a high demand.  

In general, Covid-19 measures introduced in were quick and effective, and mostly workers felt well protected. Participants noted however that some companies, like LafargeHolcim, were unwilling to do more than the bare minimum required by local authorities and tried to avoid discussions and consultations with workers’ representatives on the subject. 

Participants welcomed the union win achieved by fellow cement workers from IndustriALL Canadian affiliate FIM-CSN, who after almost two months of lockout by cement multinational CRH, finally signed an agreement with their employer and went back to work.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters reported about the ongoing organizing drive at Nevada and Southern California sites of CEMEX, a building materials producer of Mexican origin. Through the organizing drive Teamsters are trying to restore union presence in the ready-mix industry, which used to be dominated by organized labour. Workers faced a lot of resistance as the company applied different anti-union tactics, including employing specialized union busting lawyers. Teamsters brought 37 different charges of anti-union practices used by the company to the National Labor Relations Board; most of them were accepted. Union elections are foreseen to be held in some 30 different locations.

Participants agreed to hold another meeting and exchange on further developments in spring 2021.

Alexander Ivanou, industrial materials officer, says:

“The North American cement network exists since 2017 and has proved to be a good tool for reinforcing solidarity among our affiliates in the region. We learn from each other’s fights, victories and sometimes defeats, we never give up and we will keep working together, support each other and grow our strength every single day.”