A global day of action against Rio Tinto did not exclude Kitimat, where Unifor 2301 members, employees of the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter, marched to the Kitimat Modernization community office at the Upper City Centre Mall, and called out RTA, and the entirety of the Rio Tinto company, for practices which they feel at its worst is union dodging.
Unifor 2301 President Rick Belmont said that with over 400 grievances in the system against its members the company has not shown a willingness to work through any problems.
He said the union has turned to using an expedited arbitration process allowed under the Labour Relations Code in order to get the grievances addressed.
He said it has to be expedited otherwise it could take years for the issue to be resolved with the company.
“If we don’t deal with them now, if you put them in the regular system, the [modernized] plant would be up and running for 10 years before you would be able to deal with rights of our members, in the actual transition,” he said.
Belmont continued that he feels a lot of the grievances have much
“We believe a good majority of those grievances in the system, that our members rights have been violated,” he said.
The company, he said, has been sidestepping the union and dealing with members directly.
“Rio Tinto has only been here several years, and they have not demonstrated a will to sit down and actually work with the union,” he said “If anything, it looks like a concerted effort to avoid any union involvement wherever possible.”
The rally at the Upper City Centre Mall had perhaps up to 100 people, many shouting “Shame” at the company’s practices as Belmont, and guest speakers Gavin McGarrigle, BC area director for Unifor, and Richard Paquin with Industri-All Global Union, spoke on their concerns through a loudspeaker.
Rio Tinto Alcan’s Manager of Corporate Affairs & Community Relations Colleen Nyce said she had no specific comment at this time about concerns relating to the rally, except to say “we realize that there are a lot of challenges right now for our workers, for management, for everyone as the transition from old to new is about to take place – that is part of modernizing.”
Belmont said they’d put together a committee immediately if it would be useful to resolve all the grievances but doesn’t see a company effort to do that.
“We’ve talked to them about it,” he said.
McGarrigle told the assembled crowd of union members that they came together for two reasons; justice and solidarity.
“You’re all just a number to them,” he said. “But we’re not numbers. We’re people, we’re workers. You’re the backbone of this community, they wouldn’t make a thin dime if it wasn’t for everyone going to work every day.”
He said the management of Rio Tinto globally shows a pattern of neglect, and said it was the company’s safety practices which lead to the deaths of 40 miners in 2013 in Indonesia.
“Brothers and sisters, this is all part of their global game plan. They hate unions. They hate workers. They want you under their thumb.”
He continued, “This is just the start. Right now we’ll fight them in the legal process. This is the start of a movement here in Kitimat where the workers needs to take back their work site, stick together in solidarity, make links with workers all around the world, and say ‘Hell no, we’re not going to take it Rio Tinto.’”