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Earthworks Stands in Solidarity with Alma Smelter Workers in Quebec

Calls on Rio Tinto to End Illegal Lock-out and Respect Workers’ Rights


Washington, DC: Earthworks, a US-based energy and mining reform organization that leads the No Dirty Gold campaign, announced today its support for the United Steelworkers’ campaign to seek justice for 780 workers who have been illegally locked out of Rio Tinto/Alcan’s aluminum smelter in Quebec, Canada for nearly 6 months.

Rio Tinto illegally locked out 780 workers from its aluminum smelter in Alma, Quebec on December 30, 2011 after workers refused to accept an agreement that allowed the company to replace retiring workers with non-union contract workers at half the wage and without benefits.  Rio Tinto hired a security firm to forcibly remove the workers from the plant, including those who were exposed to beryllium, a highly toxic substance. Exposed workers were not permitted to decontaminate before leaving the plant and may have carried beryllium home to their families.

Payal Sampat, No Dirty Gold campaign director at Earthworks said: “Metals that are produced at the cost of workers’ rights and safe working conditions are tarnished by these dirty practices. We stand in solidarity with the workers at the Alma smelter in Quebec, and call on Rio Tinto to act quickly to end the illegal lockout and heed workers’ demands.”

Locked out workers in Alma believe that accepting the demand to cut wages in half will not only be devastating to union members but also to local community by destroying local businesses and dramatically reducing tax revenues.   

Leo Gerard International President of the United Steelworkers said: “Earthworks has shown itself to be a leading force over the years in making mining companies improve their practices. This latest show of support is consistent with the great work this organization has engaged in over the years. We are pleased to have their support.”

Rio Tinto has been contracted to supply most of the metal used to make Olympic medals for the 2012 summer Olympic Games in London. The United Steelworkers, which represents Rio Tinto workers in the United States and Canada, is leading the Off the Podium campaign to urge the International Olympic Committee to drop Rio Tinto as the official supplier to the Games, and to bring greater attention to Rio Tinto's treatment of workers, their communities and the environment.

“No Olympic athlete who strives to achieve perfection and stands on the podium should have to wear dirty silver or gold associated with Rio Tinto,” said Marc Maltais, president of USW 9490 in Quebec.  “Our members and their families have been making enormous sacrifices for nearly six months to protect the next generation and the future of our community from Rio Tinto, and we are proud to have Earthworks stand with us.”

Respect for workers’ rights is a core principle of the No Dirty Gold campaign’s “Golden Rules” criteria for more responsible mining.

For further information, see www.offthepodium.org and www.usw.ca.