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Algoma Steel strike mandate vote planned for next week

High-riding Sault Ste. Marie steel producer posted record profits in 2022 fiscal year
Algoma Steel 2 Kenneth Armstrong photo
(Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday photo)

More than 2,000 members of Algoma Steel's largest collective bargaining group have been summoned to a strike authorization vote next Monday, July 4.

United Steelworkers Local 2251, representing all the steelmaker's hourly workers, will hold the vote by secret ballot from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on the main floor of GFL Memorial Gardens.

Union executives will provide negotiation updates to their membership the same day at 9:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

If the vote gives Local 2251 leadership permission to call a strike, that doesn't mean labour action would take place immediately.

A strike authorization vote isn't a vote to go on strike, but it places the Steelworkers in a legal strike position.

The union's negotiating committee is playing hardball with a company that's riding high after more than doubling fourth-quarter net profit to $243 million, up from $100 million in the same period last year.

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Last week, Algoma Steel announced the largest per-employee payout in its 121-year history: $151 million in total profit-sharing payments for the 2022 fiscal year.

Divided among 2,700 employees, that comes to almost $56,000 per worker.

The second instalment of the payout cheques went out on Friday.

At a June 15 meeting of Local 2251's general membership, local president Mike Da Prat said those cheques were expected to be around $36,800.

Rory Ring, chief executive officer of the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, tells SooToday's James Hopkin that the profit-sharing payouts will have a "significant" economic impact upon Sault Ste. Marie, and that it "couldn't have come at a better time" due to the current inflation.

“The general economic impact that you see for every dollar in the steel industry is about three-and-a-half times," Ring said.

"So that $151 million injection, when it gets put into our community and spent, that’s almost a half a billion dollars in economic output. That’s absolutely phenomenal when you think about it."

"It’s not just $151 million in profit sharing, it’s the expenditures that happen – and many of them are going to be in our small business community and that’s going to keep people employed.”

"I think it really helps employees see the benefit of modernizing the facility so there’s a direct financial reward for being a positive contributor to the transformation of Algoma Steel."

Ring added that the payouts make Algoma Steel “a highly attractive place to work.”

“They will have a better opportunity to attract a workforce – and hopefully that workforce will come from outside of Sault Ste. Marie,” he said.

“That will increase our population, which means further growth in our local economy, and that’s just going to help us with some of the pressures that we’re seeing right now caused by supply chain, labour force demand, inflation.”

For Local 2251's Mike Da Prat, big profits show it's time for the company to share that wealth with workers who over the years have repeatedly made concessions to ensure Algoma's survival.

Company negotiators have met with their union counterparts on May 24 and 25, as well as on June 8, 9 and 10.

Da Prat has been pushing on issues like:

  • on-the-job-training
  • vacation scheduling
  • staffing
  • repatriation of work that's being contracted out
  • a helper program for all trades allowing use of displaced workers as Algoma Steel transitions to electric arc furnace technology

He's also been fighting to protect a heat-stress program intended to protect coke-oven workers.

"If they had to pay out $150 million in profit-sharing, it means that they made exorbitant income – over $3 billion," Da Prat told CBC Sudbury's Markus Schwabe in an interview broadcast Monday.

"We have invested in this company heavily, as employees," he said.

Another Local 2251 general membership meeting is scheduled for July 20.

The current collective agreement with the local expires at the end of July.

- SooToday