While Alcoa executives and stockholders gathered in a hotel downtown Wednesday for a shareholders’ meeting, a group of workers from one of the company’s aluminum smelters in Quebec rallied outside.
Over 1,000 workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 9700, have been locked out of the plant for 16 months amid a contract dispute with the company that stems in part over pensions and seniority.
“We want to negotiate a fair contract for the people so they can go back to work and have a good living in their community,” said Daniel Mallette with United Steelworkers District 5 in Canada.
The union members work at the Aluminerie de Bécancour Inc. smelter, located between Montreal and Québec City in a community of 12,000 people. Alcoa is the majority-owner of the plant. Since the lockout began, the facility has cut production significantly with only salaried workers still on the job.
Alcoa said in a statement that the company “has always negotiated in good faith” and participated in over 50 mediated sessions. The company said it offered a competitive contract in March, which the union rejected.
The company says a resolution put forward by Quebec’s government last month was a positive step.
Inside the shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh, which was streamed online, United Steelworkers vice president Tom Conway asked Alcoa CEO and president Roy Harvey to respond to workers’ concerns.
“We don’t understand how care for people fits with what’s going on in Bécancour and what’s been bestowed upon those families up there and a loyal workforce, to continue to keep them locked out and not reach an agreement over what appear to be miniscule sort of issues,” Conway said.
Harvey said he recognized the lockout has had an impact on union members, as well as the non-union workers who remain at the plant.
“Our focus is very clearly on ensuring that we have a competitive plant that we can invest in for the long-term and where we can build in the stability and where we can create the right environment for our workers and for our shareholders,” he said. "I would say that we need to continue our discussions. We are looking to bring that plant back into operation and finding the right solution where we can find a fair outcome for both our workers and for the company.”