After over a year of on-and-off negotiations between management and labor at Aluminerie de Bécancour, Alcoa Corporation opted to decline an offer for binding arbitration talks by the United Steelworkers union.
According to union spokesperson Clairandree Cauchy, the USW’s 700 workers of Local 9700 voted unanimously in favor of seeking binding arbitration.
For its part, Alcoa spokesperson Jim Beck assures his firm “remains committed to resolving the labor conflict and improving the long-term productivity of the smelter.”
Maintaining that Alcoa “always negotiated in good faith” by offering what it views as appropriate offers to labor, “arbitration will not ensure ABI’s future. Alternate processes are not the appropriate solutions to resolve the conflict.”
The plant, which has a nameplate aluminium smelting capacity of 450 thousand metric tons per annum, has been shuttered since January of last year after the prior labor agreement expired and no new deal was reached in the interim.
At present the prognosis for the site’s 1,030 union workers returning to the plant is bleak, as Cauchy noted that Alcoa “canceled all bargaining meetings that were scheduled” for the next several weeks.
As USW has committed to ensuring a labor-friendly deal, the union is likely to turn to the provincial government for assistance.
The union may pin its hopes to the newly-elected Quebec premier Francois Legault, who pledged in the run-up to his election that he would take a strong stance in handling the labor dispute.
“At this point,” explained Cauchy, “we want the Quebec government to put some pressure on the company.”
Noting that Alcoa “does good business in Quebec with three different aluminum plants” thanks to discounted power rates from state-owned electric company Hydro Quebec, Cauchy pointed out that the province and its taxpayers have lost out on over C$200 million in lost electricity sales to the shuttered smelter.