Rio Tinto, Caterpillar lock out more than 1,000 workers – by Christine Dobby (National Post – January 3, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The year began with lockouts for about 1,200 workers at two companies in Ontario and Quebec, as contract negotiations broke down in the waning days of 2011.

Caterpillar Inc. subsidiary Electro-Motive Canada locked out about 420 production workers at its London, Ont. facility on Sunday, the same day as Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. said it initiated a lockout of about 750 employees at its smelter in Alma, Que. Collective agreements in both cases expired on Dec. 31.

In the Electro-Motive case, the Canadian Auto Workers Local 27, the union representing the workers who make locomotives at the plant, had been negotiating a new contract with the company since November, hoping to replace a six- month extension with a new collective agreement.

In negotiations leading up to the deadline, the company tabled an offer, which the CAW said would cut workers’ pay in half, cut benefits and eliminate the pension plan.

On Dec. 30, the union said in a statement its members voted in favour of a strike, “if necessary.”

However, on Sunday, after the contract expired, the CAW said its members planned to work their regular 11 p.m. shift but were locked out by the company.

In a statement release through a public relations firm, Electro-Motive Canada said the union’s “changing positions have created an environment of uncertainty.”

“Therefore, EMC is seeking the assurance of a prompt ratification of the company’s last offer and has instituted a lock out at the London facility until a ratified contract is in place,” the statement said.

The company did not disclose the terms of its offer but said reporting to work would constitute acceptance of the terms of Electro-Motive’s final offer.

“Given the union has indicated its members are willing to work under those terms, we are hopeful of a speedy ratification allowing union members to return to work,” the company said.

In June 2010, Peoria, Illinois-based machinery and engine giant Caterpillar bought Electro-Motive Diesel Inc., a locomotive manufacturer spun out of General Motors.

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