Chantier Politique

March 21, 2019

English Edition, No. 5

Join ABI Workers' Energy March

For a Negotiated Collective Agreement
Acceptable to the Workers!

PDF


Alcoa Must Pay for Its Reserved Preferential Rate Energy Block!

For the Record
The People Foot the Bill for Quebec Government Handouts to Big Business
- Normand Fournier -

Workers Speak Out
The Only Way to Resolve the Conflict Is to Sit Down and
Negotiate with the Union

- André Racicot -
After 14 Months, the Legault Government Has to Get the Message that ABI Workers Are Not Willing to Accept Just Anything
- Lac-Saint-Jean Metallurgical Worker -
Act or You Are Useless!
- Richard Goyette -


Join ABI Workers' Energy March

For a Negotiated Collective Agreement
Acceptable to the Workers!

Ever since the locked out ABI aluminum smelter workers in Bécancour bravely and overwhelmingly rejected the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel's dictated offer and back-to-work protocol [1] on March 11, the demand that the conflict be immediately settled through a negotiated agreement that respects the workers continues to be echoed. The owners' cartel had assumed that the ABI workers would be exhausted by the conflict and would therefore agree to its unacceptable offer, or that their rejection of it would at least be frowned upon by the media and the Quebec people. Far from it -- their rejection of the offer and protocol, followed by multiple union and worker interventions in the media, the community as well as amongst workers, has publicly exposed the cartel's fraudulent and arrogant character. It has also exposed its aim of breaking the union's back as a means to lower the working conditions in the plant and within the community. Now is the time to speak out even more forcefully to demand a negotiated agreement acceptable to the workers, one that is respectful both of them and of their union, and also to demand that the Quebec government force Alcoa to pay for the block of electricity reserved for it at a preferential rate. Far from being a "force majeure," the lockout was a planned operation with sinister aims directed against the workers, the community and society. These are the same anti-labour, anti-social aims that Alcoa/Rio Tinto, as well as so many other supranational private interests pursue wherever they operate around the world, aided by governments at their disposal. ABI workers are making a remarkable contribution to the fight to defeat such attacks.

All Out to Support the ABI Workers!

Note

1. To learn more about why the offer and the back-to-work protocol were rejected, as well as about the lockout itself, please refer to Workers' Forum, March 7, 2019 and Workers' Forum, March 14, 2019.

Haut de page


Alcoa Must Pay for Its Reserved
Preferential Rate Energy Block!

On March 26 and 27, ABI locked out workers and their allies are organizing an Energy March. It is a two-stage event: a march in the city of Trois-Rivières on March 26, and a march in Quebec City on March 27, ending at 11:00 am with a ceremony in front of the National Assembly.[1] The ABI workers' many supporters are invited to join the marchers and welcome them upon their arrival at the National Assembly.

The march's aim is to have the energy contract between the Government of Quebec, Hydro-Québec and Alcoa reopened. According to the government, the contract frees Alcoa from having to pay for its reserved, preferential rate energy block in the case of a lockout, which is described as a "force majeure" beyond its control. The contract is not a mutually beneficial business agreement, as the company's unilateral dictate is imposed on the workers and society, with the assistance of the government.

The Quebec government is extremely complacent and deceitful in this matter. It falsely claims that nothing can be done unless the contract is reopened, which of course it is not willing to do. At the same time, it refuses to enforce the contract's terms, which clearly state that a "force majeure" must be an "unforeseeable, irresistible event beyond the control of a Party that delays, interrupts or impedes the performance, in whole or in part, by that Party of its obligations under the Contract." Alcoa itself is responsible for the lockout, as the company planned and decreed it and the course of events has shown that it did so to smash the union and lower the working and living conditions at ABI and in the community. It did so while rejecting the bargaining efforts of the workers, who even agreed to concessions to arrive at a negotiated settlement that would not eliminate their gains over the years and would respect the union. The lockout cannot be considered a "force majeure" even within the contract's terms.

In refusing to take up its responsibility, the Legault government is assisting in prolonging the lockout and giving the message to all supranational private interests that making "Quebec open for business" means that in Quebec the oligopolies are free to act with impunity against workers, communities and society, which is unacceptable. The government must do its duty and force ABI to respect its contract by paying for the block of energy reserved for it at preferential rates. It must apply pressure on Alcoa to lift the lockout and negotiate with the workers and their union so that a collective agreement, which they consider acceptable, can be reached.

Note

1. The United Steelworkers describe the two-stage march as follows:

Tuesday, March 26: Trois-Rivières leg, ending in the Ste-Marthe-du-Cap sector

Meet at 8:30 am at Stade Stereo Plus Parking Lot, 1550 Gilles-Villeneuve Avenue, Trois-Rivières. March to the office of Labour Minister Jean Boulet (1500 Royale Street in Trois-Rivières).

The march takes place between 10:00 am and noon. Departure from Labour Minister Jean Boulet's office is followed by a BBQ in the parking lot of the Sanctuary, courtesy of the FTQ-Construction. Shuttle buses will bring participants back to Stade Stereo Plus at the end of the activity.

Wednesday, March 27: Place Laurier leg, on Boulevard Laurier in Quebec City to the National Assembly

March departs from Place Laurier at 9:00 am. Rally begins at the National Assembly at 11:00 am.

Everyone is invited to accompany the marchers, or join them at 11:00 am in front of the National Assembly (a shuttle bus will be made available for those wishing to return to Place Laurier at the end of the event)

If you are interested or want further information, please contact Daniel Mallette at 450-567-0170.

Haut de page


For the Record

The People Foot the Bill for Quebec
Government Handouts to Big Business

ABI workers hold action at Premier Legault's constituency office in l'Assomption, March 1, 2019.

An article in the January 14th edition of La Presse informed that Hydro-Québec will have to pay Resolute Forest Products $3 million in reimbursement of water royalties. As we also know, as of March 13, the lockout of ABI workers in Bécancour, which has been going on for over 14 months, has resulted in a loss of income for Hydro-Québec of $262 million. The Legault government claims it cannot do anything because the lockout is considered a "force majeure" under the electricity contract between the Government of Quebec, Hydro-Québec and Alcoa. According to the government, the clause relieves the company of its obligation to pay for the block of electricity reserved for it at a preferential rate.

Meanwhile, hydro rates will increase by 0.9 per cent on April 1. Every year Hydro-Québec applies for rate increases to satisfy the government's demand for a return.

Hydro-Québec administers over 15 different electricity rates covering 320,000 business customers. In comparison, it has over 4 million residential customers, as well as farms that pay Rate D (domestic rate that also applies to farms).

Hydro-Québec, acting as a business enterprise, transfers losses to its customers. While industrial consumers benefit from preferential rates, the more than 4 million residential customers and farmers foot the bill.

How is it that the government and Hydro-Québec are permitted to act in this way?

To understand, we must go back to 1981, when the government changed Hydro-Québec's original mandate to that of a "commercial enterprise to meet new operational criteria."

Discreetly, the government revised the Hydro-Québec Act and changed its legal status and financial structure. It became a company on the stock exchange. Its sole shareholder is the Government of Quebec, to which it must now pay an annual dividend.

Under that legislation, rates are adjusted to generate operating income from Hydro-Québec's ongoing operations. This provided for the payment of a dividend to Hydro-Québec's "new shareholder," the Government of Quebec.

Since 1996, the Energy Board has set rates annually. In the years since, the Quebec government has asked the other Crown corporations to hand over their accumulated surplus and annual dividends.

It is the people of Quebec who pay through myriad ways for the attacks of global private monopolies against workers and communities. They paid in 2014, when the rates paid by Alcoa for its three smelters in Quebec were lowered in response to Alcoa's threat to shut the plants down if the government did not give it what it wanted.

Quebeckers are paying dearly for the use of a state enterprise as a pay-the-rich scheme for global private interests.

Haut de page


Workers Speak Out

The Only Way to Resolve the Conflict Is to
Sit Down and Negotiate with the Union

I believe that this Pittsburgh-based multinational is trying to smash the union by acting as if the "right-to-work" U.S. laws apply here. Already, in their first offer, they attacked union leave provisions. It's anti-union and it must not pass. They wanted to change seniority and the workers' pension fund. The workers actually agreed to certain concessions in order to obtain a settlement.

In addition, regarding electricity, all of Quebec is paying them under this claim of "force majeure." I do not understand how our Ministers could negotiate that. It makes no sense at all. It is the company that imposed the lockout so they can't tell us that that this is an event that is beyond their control. That is not credible. When the government put this clause in place, it knew very well that during negotiations the companies would use that clause, and that is what is happening at the moment. And in this way, we are financing the lockout! All Quebeckers are paying for it. This manoeuvre of the company was planned well ahead of time so as to smash the union.

This aim of Alcoa is unacceptable. When the employer saw that the government was favouring them, it aggravated the situation of the workers. When it presented the second offer, supposedly to break the deadlock, it submitted an offer that was inferior to what had been negotiated over a year ago. This is anti-union pure and simple. The fact is that there is only one way to resolve the conflict, to sit down with the union and work together to arrive to a negotiated agreement. That is the one and only way.

The conclusion is that it is high time to resolve the conflict. It's been 14 months now. It is the employer that has thrown the workers onto the streets. The workers have always tried to negotiate. They have maintained the same stand since the very beginning: they want to negotiate a contract, they want a contract that satisfies the workers. They want a contract that is negotiated and not dictated. It is the employer who does not want to negotiate. This shows the company's lack of respect for ABI workers and, in my opinion, their lack of respect for the entire working class of Quebec. If an employer wants to do business in Quebec and it operates in a place of work that is unionized, the employer has no choice. It must respect the fact that there is a union and negotiate.

We need to find an alternative to this kind of behaviour. If we let these companies have the upper hand on us, we will lose our ability to have a say in the affairs that concern us.

In conclusion, I take my hat off to these workers who, after 14 months of lockout, rejected the offer by 82 per cent and with a turnout of 90 per cent.

André Racicot is the President of United Steelworkers Local 9291

Haut de page


After 14 Months, the Legault Government Has to Get the Message that ABI Workers Are Not Willing to Accept Just Anything

ABI workers have sent a message to the Legault government that it must hear. Alcoa declared a lockout to unilaterally reorganize all the conditions at the plant. Over the years companies like this have organized to continue operating at a certain level during conflicts. The tanks are no longer frozen; managers continue to maintain a minimum level of production resulting in diminished power on our side; governments are forever siding with the multinationals, who are provided so much "assistance" that their power base is rendered completely disproportionate. Despite all of the above as well as 14 months and two winters of being out on the street, workers are sending a clear message that there is no way they will be brought to their knees. There is no way they will accept just anything.

The Premier has a responsibility in this. Multinationals enjoy significant advantages. Of course Alcoa is a privately owned company with shareholders on the stock market, however it benefits greatly from our natural resources, which are public. If companies such as this can come here and profit from our resources, then in return they must listen to the workers who have just sent them and the Premier a clear message. Legault is not the premier of the multinationals, he's everyone's Premier, including the company's executives. What the workers and, to my mind, the people are saying is that there must be a negotiated contract, acceptable to both parties, not an imposed contract. The union mentioned that it has made significant concessions, however Alcoa is intent on scraping the plate clean. It refuses to compromise. That's not what I call "negotiations." Negotiations are not a ten-month or even longer back-to-work protocol that can be suspended or canceled. How can that be considered acceptable?

And what about the "force majeure" claim? How were they able to convince the government that the lockout they imposed was a case of "force majeure?" I think there's a legal challenge to be made there, of challenging the definition and the claim put forward that the lockout is a "force majeure." Although everyone rejects that definition, no one has sent a bailiff to advise Alcoa that its definition and claim are being challenged. Instead, the message being sent to the company is that it should carry on, while other like-minded companies are also getting the same message.

To conclude, a negotiation presents challenges and is a compromise. Each party evolves in a negotiation. Alcoa does not want to move forward. It claims it has a culture and will impose it everywhere. The company must back down and the government must apply pressure so that it does back down. Workers must be able to return to work honorably and be treated with respect. Their wounds need to be healed and the government must support them so that they can do that.

Haut de page


Act or You Are Useless!

Locked-out ABI smelter workers visit office of MNA Donald Martel, March 1, 2019.

First of all, it is not my intention to comment on the issues at stake in the dispute between ABI and its employees. I will let the workers and their organization make the necessary statements. That is why I will approach the conflict in a way that seems to me fundamental, especially since it concerns all Quebeckers: the abdication of our political elites.

First, let's review briefly the (non)-negotiation strategy of this multinational company which reveals its aim of denying the demands of the employees. ABI is pinning its hopes on a collapse of the workers' resistance and the abandonment of the workers by a government that is totally won over to unbridled liberalism.

Let's see further how the employer's strategy is expressed:

1. Table offers, knowing that they are unacceptable, in order to block bargaining from the start;

2. Sabotage or block the bargaining process to undermine the work climate at the bargaining table;

3. Each new offer from the employer is worse than the previous offer, demonstrating that its desire to negotiate is nil;

4. Refuse arbitration of the collective agreement as this process would break the deadlock;

5. Propose an unacceptable back-to-work protocol in order to reaffirm that not only will there be no bargaining, but that even the return to work will take place in conditions whose sole purpose is to humiliate the employees.

In such a context, by allowing the situation to degenerate, the Quebec government validates the brutal mode of negotiation that prevails at ABI. The government is saying, to the world of labour, both national and international, that it is possible to hold bad faith negotiations in Quebec, and to do so with impunity. Are we back to the "Belle Époque" of Duplessism? Is it not unusual to have to remind the Premier, Mr. Legault, his ministers and his deputies, that they were elected by the people of Quebec and not by multinationals and big business?

Too often, our docile columnists in the institutional media, who are good at commenting on the ABI conflict, neglect to say that in our political system every MNA represents the people of his or her riding. As for the ministers responsible for specific files, do they not also represent the people of Quebec? The question also arises: Why does ABI benefit from the exceptional status granted by the Quebec authorities that places it above the obligations by which every Quebec citizen must abide? To put it more clearly: why can't the multinational ABI be called to order? It seems that this is the case and we would like to know the reasons. Should it surprise us that a multinational, deliberately and in such a demonstrative way, challenges, in form and content, the rules that we have adopted to negotiate labour contracts? To the extent that big capital considers us, to this day, to be part of the backyard of its empire, the answer is "no." It remains to be seen whether the Quebec government will contribute to maintaining this image with these companies.

We are going to be told that, for the development of Quebec and the maintenance of a prosperous economy, the government must act responsibly and look after the interests of those who, by investing in Quebec, participate in our modern Quebec. But what is happening here is far from such a high-sounding aim. ABI's deplorable actions do nothing to contribute to the development of Quebec. We can show that it undermines the standards established for negotiations and undermines the authority of the Quebec state by laughing at it. Does the Legault government not realize that ABI is destroying an industrial model that includes quality jobs that are profitable not only for the workers, but for the coffers of the state? In fact, we see that successive governments at the helm in Quebec have favoured the introduction and proliferation of precarious and low-paying jobs with the stated aim of attracting investors who have no interest in developing Quebec society.

If the Quebec government cannot enforce the model of industrial peace that has prevailed here in which bargaining in bad faith is prohibited, who will?

We must question the validity of this type of government with its limited powers, which claims to be incapable of imposing a rule of law that prohibits such contempt shown towards Quebec citizens, and reject its claim of legitimacy. Should it hold all the seats in the National Assembly it would be even more useless.

In conclusion, the government of Quebec is faced with a choice that could not be simpler: to act or to be useless.

Richard Goyette is a labour lawyer and former director general of FTQ-Construction.

Haut de page


PREVIOUS ISSUES | HOME

Read Chantier politique
Website: www.pmlq.qc.ca   Email:  permanence@pmlq.qc.ca