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North American unions ready to challenge cement multinationals

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2 May, 201824 delegates from IndustriALL affiliates International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Steelworkers both from US and Canada met on 1 May in Washington D.C. to discuss and coordinate efforts to tackle developments and challenges faced by unions in the cement sector.

IndustriALL's North America cement network discussed the situation of the countries neighbouring China that has started exporting its overproduction. Today, China stands for more than 50 per cent of the global cement production and increases price pressure on other cement producing countries in Asia.

Delegates paid special attention to the coordination between trade unions on how to deal with the multinational corporations that dominate the US and Canadian cement and ready-mix concrete market. There was a substantial discussion about the major multinationals, including LafargeHolcim, HeidelbergCement and CRH.

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for materials industries, raised LafargeHolcim‘s broken word earlier this year, to improve social dialogue by concluding a global framework agreement, including a strong part on occupational health and safety.

Hartwich said that the company is on a bad trend of shrinking their business worldwide through divestments and sales. At the merger in 2015, the company had 115,000 employees; today there are 80,000. Annual net sales are down almost 25 per cent.

However, shareholders' dividends of CHF2 per share and the level of fatalities at LafargeHolcim operations remain high. Since LafargeHolcim has stopped social dialogue and workers’ involvement in health and safety discussions, working conditions are deteriorating.

In 2016 and 2017, more than 150 workers lost their lives while at work for LafargeHolcim. Trade union demands remain the same:

  • LafargeHolcim management must rebuild trust and start a proper social dialogue, including a Global Framework Agreement
  • the company must improve health and safety by involving trade unions and workers in their policy
  • LafargeHolcim must reduce precarious employment

Feliciano Gonzalez, new Head of HR in LafargeHolcim, joined the meeting via telephone, answering questions on the misbehaviour of management in the USA and Canada. In some cases Gonzalez promised to raise the issue at the global level and get back to the local management seeking solutions. 

Participants also discussed the situation in HeidelbergCement and CRH. Although these companies have different strategies, it is still necessary that trade unions in Canada and the USA coordinate their efforts to improve their impact. A core achievement is better coordination between the network unions when it comes to collective bargaining agreements and re-negotiations.

Delegates expressed their support to LafargeHolcim workers in a solidarity action for the global day of action on 28 April.

Matthias Hartwich concluded the meeting by saying:

I am very glad that our affiliates from Canada and the USA are working together to raise workers‘ voice in the cement multinationals and beyond. It sends a strong signal that companies cannot hide, wherever they go. Together with our affiliates, we challenge any anti-worker policy in the sector.