The largest union at Essar Steel Algoma , USW Local 2251, has issued the following statement:
On behalf of the Local 2251 Negotiating Committee, Local Union 2251 received an update from its legal team regarding a conference that was held before Judge Newbould to discuss the procedures to be followed regarding labour negotiations now underway through mediation conducted by the Honourable Warren Winkler.
While there was a meeting in Toronto between some parties with the Honourable Warren Winkler, Local 2251 was not in attendance. Local 2251 did not attend for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that we were negotiating under the labour relations act with the employer. The local union was notified at the time that the employer would be seeking a no board report with a view of imposing terms.
A letter outlining our concerns was sent to the Honourable Warren Winkler by legal counsel for Local 2251. In that letter, we also advised that we would appreciate communications coming directly from the Honourable Warren Winkler to us.
We were informed by our Legal Counsel that our concerns were not well received by the Honourable Warren Winkler. To date, local union 2251 has never talked or met with the Honourable Warren Winkler.
Judge Newbould held a conference with a number of legal representatives today, March 6, 2017. At this conference, the Honourable Warren Winkler and William Kaplan also attended. The result of the conference was an order by Judge Newbould. He ordered in part;
- The process to be followed regarding labour negotiations through mediation to be conducted by the Honourable Warren Winkler.
- The negotiations between the parties under the Labour Relations Act, including the issuance of a no-board report, are suspended until further order of this court on the recommendation of Mr. Winkler.
- The parties including their counsel if they wish are to attend the mediation.
- The company and the lenders and noteholders who are the purchasers under the SISP are to speak with one voice.
- The USW is to attend with a district representative with authority to bind the USW.
- Local 2251 is to have all of its negotiating committee attend the mediation in Toronto, including Mr. Da Prat who if required for medical reasons may participate by video conferencing.
- Local 2724 is to have all of its negotiating committee attend the mediation in Toronto.
- The retirees are to have their negotiating committee(s) attend the mediation in Toronto.
- It is understood that agreement by the Local Unions is subject to ratification by the membership.
- The mediation is to be held in private without any public pronouncements or discussion of any nature or kind by any person.
- The mediation is now scheduled for March 22 to 31, 2017, and if directed by the mediator shall continue thereafter. The mediation shall conclude only after further court orders on the recommendation of Mr. Winkler.
- The time for strategic maneuvering is long past. The public interest, including Algoma, its employees and retirees, its creditors, the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Province, demands that the parties now bargain in good faith to arrive at a settlement. Failure to do so could be disastrous for the entire public interest.
Local Union 2251 originally objected to the employer taking negotiations into the Labour Relations Act regime. Once the Assistant Deputy Minister, Peter Simpson, ordered that the conciliation officer was properly appointed, legal counsel advised us that the Ontario Labour Relations complaint that we had filed would not succeed, and we withdrew it.
As a result, we commenced bargaining with the employer and in fact made progress. We were then informed that we were to attend mediation in front of the Honourable Warren Winkler. This meant that we were being dragged unwillingly back into the CCAA process.
We attempted to reach an agreement with the Company regarding the cause and effect of the mediation in front of the Honourable Warren Winkler.
Instead, we received the latest Order by Judge Newbould. This Order in our opinion is unreasonable and unconstitutional.
The Order, in part, orders that the negotiating committee attend the mediation in Toronto. The only exception being Mr. Da Prat who may participate by video conferencing. This is totally unacceptable due to the fact that the negotiating committee must work as a team. Further, the committee needs to be able to fully discuss proposals, counter proposals etc. If the Committee is split, it cannot effectively do that, nor can it effectively represent the members.
Further, the Order prevents the negotiating committee from discussing anything to do with the mediation with anyone. This prevents us from keeping our members informed and consulting our members on key developments that the committee traditionally requires their input. During negotiations or as in this case, a CCAA mediation, speaking with our members is a fundamental responsibility in representing them. We have in fact informed and consulted with our members as recent as February 23, 2017.
Also, this order states that we will mediate from March 22 to the 31st, 2017. And if the mediator decides, the Local will have to negotiate continuously thereafter and can only conclude by a court order on recommendations from the mediator.
These types of autocratic orders have never occurred to our Local. Negotiating committees from time immemorial have been able to speak with their members, leave the negotiating table if necessary, and certainly not be imprisoned in Toronto on the whim of a Judge.
We believe that this Order is unreasonable, and designed to prejudice Local Union 2251 and its members.
We have directed our Legal Counsel to file leave to appeal. We believe that this Order is unlawful.
Signed your Local 2251 Negotiating Committee