Lethbridge Kawneer workers avoid strike with new deal

The workers had voted 96% and 94% in favour of striking during two strike votes held earlier this year, after being 2 years with no contract.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about Kawneer workers in Lethbridge filing for a strike vote.

Kawneer, a division of Arconic, is an American manufacturing firm that specializes in producing a broad range of architectural aluminum systems, from curtain walls and entrances to framing systems and windows.

They have a manufacturing plant in Lethbridge, which opened in 1983 and which is where these more than 200 workers are located.

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The most recent collective agreement between Kawneer and Unifor Local 99 had expired at the end of February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was underway.

According the monthly Bargaining Update published by Alberta Labour & Immigration, the two parties were still in bargaining as of March 2021, over a year after the agreement had expired. However, starting with the April 2021 update, bargaining switched to mediation, and they were still in mediation as of June’s report.

Their previous agreement expired at the end of February 2017, and it wasn’t replaced with the latest agreement until the following October, 8 months later. And that was after two months of mediation, according to Alberta Labour & Immigration 2017 bargaining updates.

The workers at Kawneer had threatened a strike in 2011, when they were with the Canadian Auto Workers, one of Unifor’s predecessors. Armed with the threat of the strike vote, the bargaining team was able to get the employer to finally concede an agreement they could present to the workers, 75% of which voted in favour of accepting that agreement.

The strike vote, according to Unifor’s national representative Rod Wood, was held on 23 July, and 94% of the workers who voted indicated that they were in favour of striking.

This was actually the second strike vote Unifor held. The first one occurred on May 28 and resulted in 96% of workers voted being in favour.

Armed with these results, Unifor’s negotiating team was able to go back to the employer showing that not only were the workers not happy with what the employer had proposed but that they were willing to strike for something better.

Over the next two weeks, the parties returned to negotiations, and agreed to a tentative agreement that the workers finally ratified on 2 August 2022. The workers ended up avoiding the strike.

Justin Araki, Local 99 president, said that this result wouldn’t have been possible without the workers coming together in a big way.

Local 99 members showed great commitment to fairness in the face of attacks on their pension plan. This agreement would not have been possible without the solidarity of the membership and the support of expert staff from Unifor.

This new 4-year agreement is retroactive to 2020 and will expire in February 2024. It includes a 7% increase in wages over this term, with a wage freeze for 2020, 4% in 2021, 2% this year, and 1% next year.

It also protects the workers’ defined-benefit pension plan, as well as increases the shift differential, safety footwear allowance, and new rates for lead hands.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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