REPORTING · 23rd May 2012
Kitimat City Council saw a presentation from Rick Belmont, President of CAW 2301 at the Regular Meeting of Council on Monday, May 22. He stated right away he was not going to negotiate through the media. He was bringing concerns that have come out of the negotiations to Council.
“What I am here for is to enlighten the community on what Rio Tinto plans are in regards to the new smelter, their change in direction in regards to permanent full time jobs in the smelter and talk about the impact to the community if the company is allowed to run with this philosophy and break a lot of promises and commitments made not only to our union but to the community as a whole,” said Belmont.
He took a trip back into the history of Kitimat. He reminded Council that Rio Tinto Alcan had three conditions before they would modernize. The Environmental Review, the BCUC and an extension of the Collective Agreement from the Union. All the conditions were there to get final approval from the Board of Directors.
The union entered into an agreement with some conditions. They gave a five year agreement for the first time ever. They made sure Alcan had the labour stability to build the smelter. They gave Alcan a deal for transition employees. Money was not the issue.
“There was bigger and better things, not only for our union but for this community as well,” said Belmont.
Rio Tinto also got an agreement with the government, a customer for the surplus power. The union was promised 850 jobs. The jobs would continue, employment would continue, jobs with the new technology would correspond with the jobs in the old technology.
He explained the company was good with the 850 jobs although they expected there would be more jobs. The union was comfortable because there would be jobs which would not change from the older smelter. Belmont stated Paul Henning, Vice President for Strategic Projects, Western Canada for Rio Tinto Alcan has estimated 1000 jobs including staff.
In their negotiation, they talked about using the Alma model. In Alma, they had 800 hourly and an employment insurance to help people get the requirements to find the work. However, Kitimat has work which Alma does not include. Kitimat has a wharf, rail and Kemano. Alma ships molten metal, not solid projects.
However, Belmont stated Rio Tinto Alcan did not complete everything they said they would in the contract.
“They didn’t build a smelter. Do you see a new smelter out there? I see a big building and some footings but I don’t see a running smelter. They [also] didn’t share information with our transition committee,” said Belmont.
He said they have had a transition committee since 2007 and they have not received information. The committee was formed so the union would not be surprised by any of the decisions regarding manpower and work, except information was withheld. Belmont admitted Alcan had an excuse until December when they finally received the board of director’s approval.
He also said there was a downfall in the aluminium market. However, Belmont expressed once this stage was complete, there was no excuse for not sharing information once they had approval.
“You can’t tell me that they went to the board of directors and they had that pass and they had no idea how they were going to man their plant. They knew exactly the numbers but they didn’t share that until recently when we forced the issue through the process we are in now and they are obligated to give us this information… and then they come out with this list,” said Belmont.
The list is a list of specific jobs which were already being done by local workers employed by Alcan. The plan was to contract these jobs out once the plant stabilized. These jobs included sanitation and fabrication.
The total number of jobs estimated by the union was 699 jobs. “The reality is that we have 1050 full time members. They are planning to have 699. That’s 350 jobs less,” said Belmont. The number is also 500 less jobs then there were in 2007.
Belmont explained losing these jobs will have an effect on the community. These are stable jobs and losing them will mean there will mean less jobs for Kitimat youth to go into when people retire out of them.
“But we were talking about the new smelter. I don’t know about any other new smelter out there unless they want build that one, knock it down and have an agreement on another one,” said Belmont.
He expects to see property values go down since the only boom will only exist during construction and a boom for construction is not a phenomenon.
For the businesses, fewer employees mean fewer wages, less income to the businesses, less money for people to purchase from the businesses in the town. Eventually, it will impact the schools.
“Haven’t we seen enough schools close in this town? Do we want to see more? I don’t. I’ve been here for 31 years and I plan on retiring here and I don’t want to see that happen. This town will be devastated with those kinds of numbers,” said Belmont.
He stated Rio Tinto has labour disputes wherever they go. The union does not want help in the bargaining, they will do their job in there.
“It’s based on corporate greed. It’s not about viable business. It would be viable if they had 1500 hourly paid. They make power dirt cheep, the tax base is low, they have a skilled workforce. That’s viability and it has been attractive,” said Belmont.
He explained it is about having a good standard of living for their members and jobs stay in the community. He reminded Council Alcan is using public water to get the electricity which they are selling to BC Hydro.
“Now is the time to speak up. Once the corporate machine gets into gear and it happens, it’s too late then. It is too late then and it’s time for everyone to pull together. This Council, this town, the community,” concluded Belmont.
He stated he is willing to speak to any group who wants to listen to him.
Councillor Rob Goffinet wanted to know where the jobs would disappear. Belmont replied the list would include sanitation, driving materials around the plant and cathode lining.
Councillor Mary Murphy asked to meet the negotiating team and they stood up.
Councillor Phil Germuth wanted to know how many apprenticeship opportunities could be lost in the plant. Belmont explained they have 8 apprentices per year and the union want to increase those numbers. He does not have the answers right now.
Germuth wanted to know more about the lockout back east. Belmont expressed the union members are locked out and the issues are the same.
Councillor Edwin Empinado stated he had been asking questions about local sustainability as well. This pertains to local hiring practices.
There were no further questions so Belmont sat down.
Rick Belmont and CAW 2301 were not the only group to take Alcan to Task on the 22nd. Across Kitimat, an anonymous letter from the Concerned Citizens of Kitimat was sent out asking for people who have applied at Rio Tinto and Bechtal to email their personal observations and experiences to rta-bechtel-pantsonfire,,,anonymousmail.com.
Questions asked included:
“Has Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA) promises of “Jobs for all” on the Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP) come true for you and your family members?”
“Do you have any knowledge of Canadian Companies or citizens being passed over for contracts or employment at the KMP?”
“Do you think RTA’s main contractor Bechtel should be allowed to be actively seeking American companies to compete against competent Canadian companies?”
The final paragraph reads: “Concerned Citizens of Kitimat is a group that has been formed to keep RTA and its main contractor, Bechtel to the commitments they have made to the people and businesses of Kitimat and area.”
We at the Kitimat Daily sent a media inquiry to the email address provided asking if this group is any relation of the formers Concerned Citizens and Taxpayers of Kitimat. As of press time, they have not responded.
Re .short end of the stick
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 2nd June 2012
Ms. Drewes ,If I recall correctly the last group called the concerned citizens of Kitimat were made up of a group of business people who were trying to take over city council so they could get rid of Mayor Wozney and all the councilors who supported taking the BC govt. to court over the power sales agreement. All of those business people had a vested interest in seeing the power sales agreement succeed,so they would directly benefit from it. Just for the record,remember this ,Kitimat took the province to court not Alcan,that is an important difference..... I do not belong to the new group of concerned citizens but I do support what they are doing . Do you support RTA hiring the majority of their new hourly employees from other communities or do you at least think they have some sort of obligation to see the town they do business in prosper . The town has done more than their fair share in helping the project move along. I seem to recall they got a 7 million dollar tax holiday from the district. The bottom line is ,I am sure you and I want the same things for our town but we have chosen different paths on how to get there.
Short End of the Stick
Comment by Susie Drewes on 1st June 2012
I can tell you why Kitimat always gets the short end of the stick. It is because people that form groups called, "The Concerned Citizens and Taxpayers" of Kitimat (majority probably on an RTA payroll or collecting an RTA pension) have to step in everytime there is an opportunity for growth in Kitimat. You brainwash the community with crap that you throw in our mailboxes. You all were so certain that KMP would never go through and then when it does you still complain. I think you enjoy being miserable and complaining. Walmart and Canadian Tire were rejected by our community because of the risk that small businesses would close down. What happened? They opened up in Terrace and our small businesses closed down anyway. Another lost opportunity because of our concerned citizens. I'm pretty sure some of you concerned citizens have walked through the doors of Walmart at some point in your life. Now we have the opportunity for a new plant, LNG and Shell and the "concerned citizens" want to screw that up too. Are you all blind when you drive to work in the morning? (You know the place - that evil place that gives you a cheque every 2 weeks and contributes to your pension). It isn't just a couple of buildings being erected but a plant. Do you not see all the local Contractor trucks driving and working in the areas? Did you ever think we might not have enough contractors in Kitimat to do all the work or are you in the mind set that they should hire just anyone off the street? Wouldn't that be a little unsafe? I couldn't believe it when pictures were shown of the new Hotel being built on top of the mall - people were complaining how awkward it looked and what a bad idea it was. Another opportunity, and everyone complains. Who would want to open a business in this town with so much negativity in the air? If a strike should happen this summer and many people are left without jobs, I will blame it on "The Concerned Citizens and Taxpayers of Kitimat". The only thing you are concerned about is yourselves. You are a very selfish group of people and I am a "Concerned Citizen & Taxpayer" concerned about the sanity of your group because I believe you are all delusional. Please remove me from your mailing list the next time you decide to distribute junk. Thank you.
The way I see it....
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 28th May 2012
Mr .Hewitson, you and I have been long time residents of Kitimat,I was actually born here, have heard the endless promises . It is hard not to prejudge when our area and particularly Kitimat, keeps getting the short end of the stick. After the remodernization ktimat will be left with approx.2/3rds of the work force if lucky and almost half will be people from Terrace. RTA formerly known as Alcan has consistently played hard ball with Kitimat since the Power sales court case. The majority of new hires at the smelter in the past few years have not been from Kitimat. We are not talking of jobs that need a certain expertise but entry level jobs. Our residents have had to endure many many years of inhaling the cancer causing fumes that have floated around our air shed. To me if RTA wanted to be a good corporate citizen it should make a point, even go out of its way to hire young men and woman from our town . At least they will buy a house here and the spin offs may benefit our town. To have an extaordinary amount of employees from another town doesn't do kitimat any good. The point I am trying to make is Terrace has been getting the majority of jobs at the smelter as payback for them supporting Alcan in the power sales agreement and now they are getting the benefits of potentially millions of dollars in investment from big box retail chains, who are going to be building in Terrace . So they get the spin offs too. The only thing that will come from this is more resentment between communities. Like you said enough talk for now ,we will wait to see how things unfold.
Community support means some give and take
Comment by Allan Hewitson on 27th May 2012
I trust, and hope, that the community will not find itself in a divisive debate on the new contract or how things will pan out in the next while. What we will all need is some understanding and give and take, but we can't afford Kitimat to do all of both the giving and taking.
RTA has to be able to straddle a line that allows them to retain their claim to be good productive employers, with community interest included. In the past few years RTA has certainly taken its time to move forward on a project planned for 20 years - an demonstrative progress is hard to see at this point. The "hostage" camp as I chose to call it - is a non-progressive decision that eliminates many of the benefits to the community that were expected.
RTA continues to work on areas where work has been needed for a long time - aboriginal issues etc. but there's not a lot of contribution to the DoK as we might have expected. I feel hypocritical in his view, since RTA was more than generous in a project where I was involved and helped us make Coy Cup a success. All that said much, much more needs to be done to allow Kitimat as a whole to see the benefits of changing industrial development.
More later, as more develops. I don't want to prejudge - but talk of lock outs, overseas workers etc. and strife is not encouraging across the board.
WHAT TO SAY WHAT TO BELIEVE
Comment by LINDA HALYK on 26th May 2012
I still find it hard to believe that RTA garners trust from people in Kitimat.
I also find it difficult that Councillor Murphy is still spouting about a viable operation at Eurocan, when everyone was beating a dead horse the Provincial Government, Eurocan and the Haisla had a deal to shut it down, due to pollution issues.
Good money wasted and hopes dashed.
Why would RTA follow any rules, they make their own, the Mayor and some of Council are surely paid to look the other way, or are wined and dined, for favours. If they are ignorant enough, NOT to realize this then, there really is no hope for Kitimat to have an aluminum plant or to have any permanent long time jobs for any project that comes to town.
Hans and Mary
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 25th May 2012
Mary people who stay neatral are called fence sitters.Hans , If I am not mistaken it is your wife that spearheaded the retire in kitimat campaign, and I applaude her for that.But the majority of people that retire here are people who forthe most part own there own homes and can not afford to leave unless the bought a house in the lower mainland or Okanagan when prices were affordable. Having said that if all these projects go ahead in kitimat ,people wont be able to afford housing here soon. Who ever thought anyone would pay half a million dollars for houses in Kitimat.Rediculousif you ask me, like they say a sucker born every minute. Now to get to the meat of this argument ,it is more important than ever in the times we live in to have a strong union. It seems to me you are buying the corporate BS. Let me make one thing clear ,the job losses are not ,I repeat are not due to technological changes. The jobs are still going to be there but done by contractors at half the wages and no pension plans.. Have I made my self clear on this point. And as for all the employees who are thinking about having a five year agreement as a positive , remember this,even if RTA gives in to this ficticious num,ber of 850 employees,it will last till the end of the 5 years and then we are back to square one.And the fight begins again. RTA will be producing metal according to them,as soon as the first building is ready for production. Lets say they finish all the buildings and are in full production. There is room for future expansion of another whole building . Now if RTA gives in to this ficticious number of 850 jobsand finally decide to build another line in the future they can build it with all contracted labour because they have given us what thry originally promised and will tell us to stuff it . RTA is ruthless ask their supervisors how fun it is to work for them. Any ways enough said for now But I will be back. PS...Wait till the americans take over with all the construction jobs if Bechtel has their way . As far as they are concerned Canadians have bad attitudes. We are the northern equivelant of their southern neighbours.
Comment by mary on 25th May 2012
Mr. Sanou, Well aware of technological change, dealt with this issue many times along with
reduction/elimination/combination of jobs, because of technological change. And dealt with the closure of what the union felt was a viable operation. Like then i was doing the best I can, not going to please everyone, but as i stated to you on the phone, i appreciate any discussions/involvement and given the ability to respond.
"Thanks a lot"
Comment by H.Sanou on 25th May 2012
Quite obvious that Ms. Murphy is not familiar with technological change. It seems that following her logic the smelter should have the same amount of employees as there were 50 years ago.
There was a study done by Casaw local one on tech change and it was inevitable that the plant would not be viable without tech change.
The quicker people realize that employers are not in the business of employment in RTA's case aluminium, the sooner we can address the attraction of business to the community.
We have a lot to offer and let's play to those strenghts and not harp on outdated union models.
thanks a lot...
Comment by mary on 24th May 2012
Apocalypse now....what I said was good luck, the company’s are trying to come after permanent jobs and turn them into contracting out jobs, first items on their agendas...and elimination of high paying jobs/benefits. That is the way of life we/and unions have to deal with. We were successful at warding this off, but that didn't mean they stopped trying. It was a constant battle, some lost and some won. DOK targeted refuse collectors, years ago successfully. Where were you then....Again pls contact me for any concern or to clear these types of items up. Yep not going to happen. thanks for at least bringing this to my attention, so i have the opportunity to clear it up.
Protecting jobs is what I did and you can ask any local 298 member or 1127, and that is the same reply you will get. Read arbitrations regarding contracting out and you will know why and what gives companies power to come after these jobs.
I am true to what I commit to…including staying neutral on items agreed to by council. I am so blessed that upper rio tinto management seeks my friendship, good grief
Thanks a lot
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 23rd May 2012
I would like to say I was very disappointed in Councilor Murphys comment that contracting out was a way of life now adays,She of all people being the former president of the union at Eurocan should know better than to condone the practice. Seems to me all that schmoozing at the golf course with the upper management of Rio Tinto has warped her sense of better judgement . Core well paying jobs must be protected.