Aluminerie de Bécancour’s (ABI) unionized workforce began making its way back into the plant on Friday, marking the end of one of Quebec’s longest lockouts.
United Steelworkers members are returning to the plant thanks to a vote earlier this month to accept what Alcoa characterized as a final offer. The plant’s 900-strong union workers voted 79 percent in favor of the proposed contract, which Alcoa said was the last offer before total closure at the plant.
A handful of workers returned to the plant on Friday, the first trickle of the 926 active union employees at the site. That total is about 100 fewer than the number of workers who were locked out by management in early January 2018. However, according to Alcoa Canada president Jean-François Cyr, the entire labor force will have their jobs back for the asking now that the labor contract issue has been addressed.
Union workers at ABI have been without a contract since the summer of 2017, when the prior accord’s term lapsed. The parties were unable to come to an agreement in the 90-day window allowed for in the lapsed deal, leading to a lock-out a few days into the new year.
ABI has been operating with a skeleton crew since the lockout began, with the remaining salaried employees operating one of the plant’s three potlines. However, management ultimately idled the third potline late last year, as Alcoa made it clear that closing the plant for good was always well within the realm of possibilities.
ABI is a joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto Group, with Alcoa the majority owner of 74.95 percent and Rio Tinto possessing ownership in the remaining 25.05 percent. The plant’s 720 pots on its three potlines gives it a nameplate capacity of 413 thousand metric tons per annum, making it the second-largest aluminium production site in North America.