Union members employed at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Que. have voted by a majority of 80.3% to reject the company’s latest contract offer. The overwhelming rejection came during voting held earlier this week by members of United Steelworkers Local 9700.
During a press conference held shortly after the results were announced, Steelworkers Local 9700 President Clément Masse urged the company to resume negotiations.
“We are convinced that a negotiated settlement is possible,” said Masse. “The employer attempted a show of strength by putting an abrupt end to the negotiations and submitting a final offer, but it didn’t work. Our members stand together in solidarity and they are determined.
“We remain convinced that if negotiations resume at this stage, we’ll be able to reach a negotiated settlement.”
The latest management proposal called for the introduction of a new, member-funded pension plan that would apply to all workers, irrespective of their date of hire. The years of service accumulated under the previous plan would be recognized, but going forward the risk related to poor pension plan performance would rest on the shoulders of the workers.
“This is an important change, moving from a defined benefit pension plan where the employer assumes the risks, to a member-funded pension plan where the risk falls entirely on the workers,” said Masse. “Our members are not convinced that the employer is investing enough in its proposed plan for the proposal to be worthwhile.”
Recognition of workers’ seniority, particularly regarding employee transfers and turnover, is another contentious issue.
“The company broke off the negotiations in December, right at the time that it introduced these issues,” said Masse. “Once again, the employer tried to act unilaterally. This plant works well because of the workers’ expertise. ABI needs to respect its employees and work with us to find solutions, rather than unilaterally impose changes.”
The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing 60,000 workers in all sectors of the economy.