ASI hires agency to protect assets;
USW believes workers being hired
BY BOB MIHELL
Special to Sault This Week
A decision by Algoma Steel Inc. to hire an outside agency "to maintain
its assets" in the event of a work stoppage has provoked an angry
response from the United Steel Workers executive.
Brenda Stenta, manager corporate communications for ASI, acknowledged
Friday the company had hired an agency to seek the necessary workers as
part of its "contingency plan" should contract negotiations, underway in
Stenta added that it was a "common practice" used by the company "each
time we enter into labour negotiations", including in 2004 when an
eleventh hour settlement averted possible strike action. "You can't shut
this whole asset down or you won't have an asset to come back to," she
Stenta stressed management had no intention of running the steel mill.
She suggested ASI would need "about 40 or 50 people" to protect its
But Mike Da Prat, president of Local 2251, said from Toronto Monday the
contingency plan was kept secret from both the USW executive and ASI
workers despite management promises of "full, true and plain disclosure"
The discovery of an advertisement that appeared July 4 in the Toronto
Sun under the heading: "Temporary Full-Time Positions Available" by a
USW member led to further inquiries by the Union.
The ad goes on to target a variety of tradesmen including mechanical
maintenance technicians, welders, and cokemaking operators. As
incentive, the ad offered, "Up to $3,250 Cdn. per week with OT" and
"accommodations, meal allowance and travel paid". Da Prat said it was
only by accident that the Union learned what the USW believes is a
company plan to hire replacement workers during current contract talks.
"We were not aware [they were advertising in 2004] anymore than we were
aware they were doing it now," Da Prat said. "What happened was some
individual discovered it by accident. We had someone call down and we
we're told only this: that it was a place in Northern Ontario that was
eight hours away from London, Ontario. They had coke ovens and they
needed coke oven experience, and their contract was up on July 31."
After hearing about the Toronto Sun ad, Sault This Week attempted to get
a response for more information using the email address included in the
classified, but were unsuccessful as of deadline.
STW then contacted the manager of corporate communications for ASI
Friday and asked if the July 4 ad for replacement workers was on behalf
of Algoma. While Stenta acknowledged that the company had hired an
agency to "assist with contingency planning", she said she had no
knowledge how that agency had proceeded. "I don't know where the agency
has advertised," Stenta said. "I believe they have advertised in a
variety of different places. I'm not privy to their strategy."
She added, "It is always our preference that we be able to use our own
people to maintain the assets while people were off work. We made that
request to both locals again this year and they have not yet responded."
Da Prat countered, "[ASI] talked to us informally about asset integrity
and we told them we had to check and would get back. And their request
to 2251 was for way more than forty to fifty people. It was upwards of
Da Prat said the Union was prepared to act responsibly to make sure the
company's assets are maintained, but suggested there is more than one
way to do so. He said that in 2004 they had made a "comprehensive
proposal" to protect assets, but prevent any discipline of workers if
they refused direct orders that conflicted with their support of
"brothers and sisters" on the picket line. The company did not accept
the Union proposal.
Equally disturbing to Da Prat, however, is a promise delivered in a
letter to employees on July 5 from ASI president/CEO Denis Turcotte, the
day after the Toronto Sun replacement worker advertisement. Turcotte
wrote: "Since emerging from CCAA, the Company has committed to a
communications standard of 'full, true and plain disclosure'...
Regardless of the sensitivities and occasional conflict it creates, we
believe that all employees want and need to get the straight facts about
issues that affect their lives at work."
The three-page letter concluded, "We will make sure that
'misinformation' is corrected and any selective disclosure is
rectified." At no point does Turcotte's letter mention the company's
contingency plan in the event of a strike.
Da Prat said, "They're upset that we suggested that they weren't being
[open and truthful]. I suggest that someone take a look on Google what
'full, true and plain disclosure' really means. We've exchanged emails
now, but no one told me they were establishing a contingency plan."
In a follow-up email received Monday, Stenta wrote the company would
prefer to use its own personnel should it become necessary to protect
But in the absence of an agreement with the Union and only 129 non-Union
employees, she said ASI hired the Agency to protect its assets in the
"unlikely event" of a work stoppage.
"Algoma Steel is not running ads nor are we hiring anyone other than an
Agency that will assist in maintaining the assets," she concluded.
Sault MP Tony Martin said Sunday that he was not aware of an ASI
contingency plan. He said that if the company were, in fact, seeking
replacement workers in the event of a work stoppage, he would be
disappointed. "This doesn't speak of the kind of corporate
responsibility that Algoma Steel has stood for," Martin said. "I think
this sends out the wrong message at a time when a new company is trying
to gain the confidence of its workers."
Martin expressed concern about a trend in Canada where workers work
longer and harder for less, while top managers make more and work less.
"In the framework we have now, there is no legislation to stop a company
from bringing in replacement workers, or scabs, or whatever you want to
call them. It sets up a confrontation all by itself because the company
does have to legally protect its assets. In the past, they used
management to protect those assets," he said.