Close to midnight on December 30, 2011, after many hours of contract negotiation, Rio Tinto Alcan illegally locked out the workers at its smelter in Alma, Que., 24 hours before it had the legal right to do so.
Security guards, for the most part anglophones, forced the workers onto the street, without even giving those who had been exposed to beryllium the time to go through the decontamination procedure.
The lockout was officially announced on December 31, when workers were preparing to start their shifts, having chosen not to exercise their strike mandate.
Since the fall of 2011, Rio Tinto Alcan had turned a deaf ear to any meaningful dialogue between the parties. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the company filed its “final” offers, knowing full well that the workers would find them absolutely unacceptable. On December 29 and 30, more than 88% of the workers rejected the employer’s offers.
In the first week of the lockout, Rio Tinto closed a number of pots in the smelter and is now operating at a third of its production capacity.
Quebec legislation prohibits the use of replacement workers (scabs) in the event of a strike or a lockout. Yet an investigation by Quebec’s labour ministry revealed that at least one scab worker has been hired, and it is suspected that the company has hired several more.
Rio Tinto has made a number of false accusations against its unionized employees. This is what led to an injunction on January 3 that limited picketing near the plant.