Another Steelworker strike looms in Canada

The countdown is on towards Algoma Steel Inc.'s first labour disruption in 17 years. Out-of-town contract talks between Algoma and United Steelworkers Local 2251, representing about 2,500 hourly production, maintenance, service and clerical employees, broke off late Thursday afternoon in Burlington. Contract talks between the company and Local 2724, representing nearly 600 salaried supervisory and technical personnel, were still ongoing late Thursday night.

Contracts between Algoma and Locals 2251 and 2724 expire in five days, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. "The negotiating committee is packing up and coming home," said Mike Da Prat, president of Local 2251, in a telephone interview late Thursday from Hamilton St. Joseph Hospital. "We are too far apart to avoid a strike next week. We stayed beyond our original deadline and were still unable to come up with a fair and reasonable contract."

The local had advised the company "repeatedly" it needed a tentative deal by 12:01 a.m. Thursday to give it time to return to Sault Ste. Marie and proof read and prepare handout documentation for Saturday membership information meetings.

The talks broke off at 5 p.m. Thursday, said Da Prat.

Three earlier "contentious" company language proposals pertaining to letters of agreement, contracting out and lines of sequence that had angered and frustrated the 2251 bargaining team had been "resolved," according to Da Prat, but the monetary proposal was an issue that couldn't .

"Their last official offer was two per cent in each of three years, with COLA (cost of living allowance) roll-in each year - that was less than we got the last time.

"The company has made hundreds of millions of dollars this contract, paid shareholders over $400 million, and yet our reward for helping them reap unprecedented profit is anything but fair."

Da Prat was admitted to Hamilton St. Joseph on Monday for a scheduled kidney removal operation.

"It wasn't an emergency procedure, I knew it had to be done, it was just a question of when they were going to do it," said the union president, who expects to be released either Sunday or Monday.

Merle Evans, 2251 vice-president, assumed the chair's position on the bargaining team but Da Prat remained active in discussions.

The negotiating team, which has been in Burlington for three weeks, expects to return to the Sault today.

Membership information meetings are scheduled for Saturday at the Steelback Centre for 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the company and Local 2724 were still talking "monetary issues" as of 11 p.m. Thursday.

"We're still going at it," said Ian Kersley, president of Local 2724, in a brief telephone interview. "We're willing to stay as long as it takes to get a fair and reasonable contract . . . We have until midnight July 31st."

The interview concluded before Kersley could comment on whether his local would stay on the job beyond July 31, if the two sides were still talking, or whether the 48-hour period between membership information meetings and an actual vote, should they achieve a promise of settlement, could be waived.

"The information meetings are still a go for Saturday . . . Whether the negotiating team is actually there for the meetings is still to be determined," said Kersley.

Local 2724 has scheduled information meetings for noon and 8 p.m. at Best Western Great Northern.

Nearly 130 non-union personnel have been training for nearly two weeks on how to preserve and maintain company assets, such as coke making batteries, utilities, material handling, security and fire and flood patrols in the event of a labour disruption.

Non-union personnel are expected to be augmented by an unspecified number of workers hired through an outside agency.

The 25- to 30-day partial rebuild of massive No. 7 blast furnace, involving upwards of 500 tradespeople working 24/7 since July 6, will have been underway for 24 days at the strike deadline.

The USW hit the pavement for a record 112 days during the last labour disruption in 1990, from Aug. 1 until Nov. 21.

This is the first contract for India's Essar Steel Holdings Ltd. which received shareholder approval on their $1.89 billion cash takeover more than two months ago.


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