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Long lockout at ABI, Canada, ends in win

4 July, 2019Workers at Aluminerie de Bécancour Inc. (ABI) have voted by a 79.77 per cent majority to ratify the employer’s contract offer, bringing an end to one of the longest private-sector labour disputes in Quebec history. 1,030 USW Métallos members were locked out from work at the Alcoa plant for 18 months after the company refused to negotiate.

"I am proud of the workers, of the struggle they have waged to preserve jobs and to defend basic principles such as seniority and their working conditions,” says Clément Masse, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9700.
In the agreement, improvements were made to a return-to-work protocol, allowing all union members to return to their jobs within an eight-month period, compared to the company’s previous proposal which could have extended the return period to several years, during which union rights would have been suspended. An employer grievance demanding a US$19-million settlement from the union also has been dropped.

Seniority rights are respected in the agreement, and the employer will no longer be able to offer positions to people outside the plant without first offering them to union members.

Union leaders said they would have preferred a negotiated settlement, which would have created a better working environment as workers return to their jobs, and condemned the company's resistance to engage in meaningful, constructive negotiations throughout the 18-month lockout.
“We are proud of our brothers and sisters who stood up for themselves for so long, and have now reached a settlement that gives them the opportunity to return to their workplaces in dignity and with pride. This is an important win, not only for the region but for the trade union world, showing that the way to achievements is often a long and winding path,” says Matthias Hartwich, base metals director, IndustriALL Global Union.

IndustriALL's Executive Committee in May this year, gave public support for the struggle.

The union also denounced Quebec Premier François Legault’s blatant bias and interference in the negotiations, which emboldened the company in its agenda of refusing to engage in meaningful negotiations.

On this basis, USW Métallos has filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization.

ABI is co-owned by multinational giants Alcoa, which holds a 75 per cent stake and Rio Tinto, which holds the remaining 25 per cent.