Case Studies

These case studies illustrate how Alcoa is acting upon its commitment to sustainable development throughout the world. We are pleased with this progress, but look forward to achieving even more.

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Canada - 2009

Smelter Turns Around Contentious Management/Employee Relationship

 

By rebuilding its leadership team, changing its leaders’ management style, and boosting communication with employees, Alcoa’s Aluminerie de Becancour (ABI) smelter in Quebec, Canada, addressed a contentious management/employee relationship and today is in the top echelon of Alcoa plants in regards to employee engagement and satisfaction.

Prior to 2005, the relationship between ABI management and the unionized employees was poor. In 2003, the union filed 572 grievances against ABI. That number escalated to 1,922 in 2004, the year in which a work stoppage occurred from July to November.
“Prior to the strike, there was a lot of tension and confrontation between the union and management,” said Clément Masse, president of the United Steelworks Local Union 9700. “The main issue was the lack of information that the union and employees were getting from management. In addition, the union and ABI management were working through their attorneys to always interpret the bargaining agreement in their favor. We were not talking, we weren’t working on solving problems, and we didn’t trust each other.”

Adds Stephen Toulouse, an operator on the smelter potline and a union representative, “It was terrible. There was continuous confrontation that, at times, almost came to blows. When management decided to reorganize or make other changes, it occurred without anyone asking our opinion. We were used to working in partnership, where we would sit with management, look at a problem, and find a solution. This new management approach caused a lot of anger among the employees. I didn’t have to convince anyone to vote for the strike in 2004.”

Following the strike, both parties committed to take part in a preventative mediation process. ABI also brought in a number of new leaders and adopted an inclusive management style. Another key focus was increasing communications through regular plant-wide meetings conducted by the plant manager, twice-a-month meetings between supervisors and their respective teams, and an increased management presence on the shop floor. A new employee intranet site and weekly newsletter also ensured a continuous stream of information was available.

The union began its own education campaign, meeting with ABI management to explain that the role of union representatives was to ensure compliance with the bargaining agreement and defend workers’ rights according to provincial labor laws and other local laws.

“This led to a better understanding of the actions that were often taken by the union,” said Masse. “We wanted to make sure management knew our representatives were not putting out grievances just to annoy them. I think that helped a lot in increasing the communication between the union and management. There’s also a lot more transparency on the part of management, and the trust between us is now measurable.”

In 2008, ABI posted the following results in Alcoa’s worldwide Global Voices employee engagement survey:

  • Engagement: 88%
  • Involvement and belonging: 77%
  • Leadership and vision: 81%


The new management style and enhanced communications also contributed to a 43% decrease in total injuries and a 45% decrease in first-aid cases from 2005 to 2008. And, the number of grievances filed in 2008 was 61—a 97% decrease from 2004.

“Employees feel more respected, and there’s now a level of trust that wasn’t there before,” said Toulouse. “When management wants to make a change, we do it together. It’s just so much easier today.”