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Local 2251 refuses to meet with provincial mediator

'The company should now realize that we are all united. We're not prepared to fund mismanagement with sacrifices' - Mike Da Prat
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Mike Da Prat, president of USW Local 2251, confers with Local 2724 president Lisa Dale at a Local 2251 membership meeting on Feb. 23, 2017. Photo by David Helwig/SooToday

Provincial mediator Warren Winkler has scheduled mediation dates later this month for Essar Steel Algoma, the United Steelworkers union and term lenders who want to buy the Sault steelmaker.

But Michael Da Prat, president of Steelworkers Local 2251, tells SooToday he won't be at the table.

Local 2251, Essar Algoma's largest union representing its hourly workers, voted 98 percent yesterday to authorize strike action at the discretion of the local's leadership.

Da Prat says the union is entirely within its rights to refuse to deal with Winkler, a former Ontario chief judge, until a court clarifies whether he's negotiating under Ontario's Labour Relations Act or the federal Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

"The answer is no," Da Prat tells SooToday.

"We will negotiate with one entity. If the CCAA court wants to tell us that we're under the CCAA and we must negotiate with the bidders, then have them indicate that. If on the other hand, they're saying that the Labour Relations Act applies, we're there now. And we will continue there until someone tells us definitively that, no, you need to go into the CCAA."

"We refused to go to the mediation sessions because no one would give us the assurance that we're either negotiating under the Labour Relations Act or the CCAA. The last official,word that we received was from Peter Simpson, who is with the Ontario government, that the conciliator, not the mediator, was properly appointed. Which means that conciliator has the authority to issue a no-board report," Da Prat said.

"We're going to continue negotiating with the employer under the Labour Relations Act until such time as we're given an order in writing, or that we're given assurance in writing that if we do go back into the CCAA mode of negotiations, that we're going to stay there."

"We're not going to be whip-sawed back and forth so that the employer has the hammer, the threat, of the no-board report,  and we negotiate with them, resolve a number of issues, then we go into CCAA under a mediator, who, to get a deal, doesn't take into account what's already been settled, and now we're going to start mediating further concessions. And if that doesn't work out, because of no assurances, we're back under the gun of the Labour Relations Act, where the conciliator can threaten a no-board report and demand more concessions."

Local 2251 negotiators met today with their counterparts from Essar Steel Algoma.

Da Prat said that monetary proposals were exchanged.

"We're taking this strong strike mandate into negotiations with us," he said.

"It is expected that the company should now realize that we are all united. We're prepared to do what makes sense. We're not prepared to fund mismanagement with sacrifices. We will negotiate a collective agreement that will ensure that we have input into the decision-making. That we don't have an oppressed group of people that are forced to make decisions based on what they fear might happen to them."

"We'll see if the company is serious in negotiating with us. A lot of the proposals that were put to us had nothing to do with making the company profitable, had everything to do with the fact that they were irritants to management. We're not interested in excuses that it's the collective agreement that prevents the workforce being efficient. The managers can learn to operate the way the collective agreement was designed."

"The collective agreement is the product of a large number of people over a large number of years, both management and union. It is ludicrous to believe that one set of managers can find all the flaws and correct them. The reality is they're not finding the flaws at all. They don't understand the collective agreement sufficiently. What they're creating is problems and chaos in the workplace."

"We are not going to frivolously call a strike. But now, the company is on notice that they do not unilaterally hold the hammer. Right now, it's even."

Da Prat that during today's negotiations, Local 2251 tabled a proposal that would require the company to removed Appendix G from its collective agreement with Steelworkers Local 2724, representing Essar Algoma's salaried workers.

Appendix G allows some members of Local 2724 to be treated differently from others, he said. 

The following is the full  text of today's announcement from Essar Steel Algoma:

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Essar Steel Algoma announces mediation scheduled

SAULT STE. MARIE - Essar Steel Algoma Inc. ("Essar Steel Algoma" or the "company") advised today that at the request of the Honourable Mr. Warren Winkler, the mediator appointed by Justice Newbould of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the company has not requested a no board report. 

Mr. Winkler has scheduled dates later this month for mediation amongst the parties, specifically the company, the successful bidder identified through the court-approved sale and investment solicitation process, and representatives of the union.

Essar Steel Algoma Chief Executive Officer Kalyan Ghosh commented on the development, "Our focus is on emerging from CCAA as a strong and sustainable advanced steel manufacturer. We remain optimistic that a deal can be achieved among all stakeholders that ensures this outcome."

Essar Steel Algoma

Essar Steel Algoma Inc. is based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As a fully integrated steel producer, the company derives its revenues primarily from the manufacture and sale of hot and cold rolled steel products including sheet and plate.

Essar Steel Algoma Inc. filed for creditor protection under the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act on Nov. 9, 2015. 

The sale and investment solicitation process was launched on Feb. 11, 2016.

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