Simmering Alcoa Labor Dispute Morphs Into ‘Clash of the Titans’ – by Sandrine Rastello and Joe Deaux (Bloomberg News – September 11, 2018)

Workers of the Alcoa Corp.-controlled Becancour smelter in Quebec stand guard under umbrellas outside the gates. Whenever a vehicle approaches, a pair scurries to take down the driver’s details and make sure there’s no scab laborer in disguise.

The ritual, witnessed on a rainy August morning, has become part of life at the aluminum plant since January, when the company locked out more than 1,000 employees represented by the United Steelworkers union. The entrance is also where tensions have flared as the conflict, which started over pensions and recruitment rules, turned into a deadlock.

For Pittsburgh-based Alcoa, the dispute has resulted in a production decline at the plant, adding to pressures resulting from U.S. aluminum tariffs that have hit its three smelters in Canada. The company is now seeking deeper changes — including reduced payrolls — to make the plant more competitive. For their part, workers say they’ve already made concessions and are fighting to retain seniority rights.

From the point of view of the mayor of the town on the St. Lawrence River, the situation looks like a battle of principles between Big Business and Big Labor which both feel they can’t afford to lose.

“It’s a clash of the titans,” says Jean-Guy Dubois, mayor of the town of 13,000 people two hours northeast of Montreal. “Becancour has become the stage where it happens, and we’re the victims”

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