The workers are members of UNIFOR, which was recently formed through the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union of Canada. Silicium Québec, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Global Specialty Metals, is the only silicon metal production facility in Canada.
“We didn’t want a work stoppage. But the employer’s demands were extreme,” UNIFOR Local 184 President Jean Simoneau said by phone Dec. 12. “No one wanted to see our income drop by 40 percent.”
Silicium Québec is pushing cuts to the pension plan, wages and benefits, as well as the elimination of up to 30 jobs through the use of subcontractors.
After union members presented their fight at the November convention of the Quebec Federation of Labour, delegates pledged a total of $95,000 in donations from various union locals. Delegates at UNIFOR’s founding convention on the Labor Day weekend collected $38,000 on the convention floor.
“I’m impressed by the support from other union locals, impressed by the solidarity,” said locked-out worker Christian Laliberté. “Some people just stop and talk to us when they see the picket line, people who work in the area. I’ve become a lot more of a union guy than I was before.”
“The work can be quite dangerous: fire, liquid metal,” said Laliberté. Carcinogenic black dust is a common hazard. The plant operates continuously, 365 days a year, on a mixture of 12- and eight-hour rotating shifts. The average wage is $28 an hour.
Talks have resumed, with meetings scheduled in December. Picket lines are up around the clock at the crossroads of Arthur Sicard and Yvon Trudeau roads in Becancour’s industrial park.
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