For the 1,000 workers locked out almost a year ago, tariffs and trade wars are making the future even more uncertain
Snowflakes fell early Wednesday morning along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in Bécancour, Quebec, where Jennie Vallé-Boucher is one of about 1,000 workers from an aluminum smelter, who is preparing to spend a second winter on the picket line.
In January, Alcoa Corp., which owns 70 per cent and operates the Bécancour smelter, locked out its unionized workers in a labour dispute that continues to boil over even as a cloud of uncertainty has settled over Canada’s aluminum industry.
One thing is clear, however: If and when the lock out ends, market conditions are unlikely to be the same as when it started. In the nearly 10 months that have passed since the dispute erupted, the U.S. enacted 10 per cent tariffs on aluminum imports, which remain in place despite negotiating a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
“At least in the aluminum industry, this is totally uncharted territory,” said Jean Simard, president and chief executive of the Aluminum Association of Canada. “We’ve never gone through this.”
On Tuesday, Simard travelled to Ottawa and testified to the House of Commons’ International Trade Committee that U.S. tariffs are making it difficult to plan investments, and jeopardizing growth of Canada’s aluminum industry.