May 7, 2012
Workers locked out of the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Alma, Quebec since last December have filed a complaint calling on the organizers of the London Olympic Games (LOCOG) to drop the resource firm as an official Games supplier of gold, silver and bronze for athletes' medals.
With operating profits of more than $33 billion in the past two years, Rio Tinto wants to hire new smelter workers in Alma at 50% of current wage levels and with almost no benefits, as unionized workers retire. When the 780-strong workforce turned down that concession, the company locked them out.
The United Steelworkers union (USW), which represents the workers at both the Alma smelter and the Utah mine where the gold for Olympic medals is being turned out, has now filed a formal complaint with LOCOG asserting that Rio Tinto's actions in Alma violate the Games' ethical procurement standards because they consist of an illegally-declared lockout, serious and significant violations of the workers' health and safety, shirking its obligations by sub-contracting out work to low paid workers, and paying wages and benefits below industry benchmark standards.
The complaint letter goes on to request that LOCOG follow its ethical guidelines to reject Rio Tinto as a supplier.
The workers were joined by former Olympian and honorary Canadian Olympic Committee member Bruce Kidd, professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education at University of Toronto. Kidd said that Rio Tinto, by locking out its workers, "contradicts everything the Olympics stands for." He said that Rio Tinto should not be permitted to benefit by its association with the solidarity and fair play of the world's top amateur athletics event.
"Rio Tinto is offering wages at a profitable plant that are not even enough to raise a family or support our children to follow their dreams," said Robert Gagnon, a smelter worker and member of Steelworkers Local 9490 in Alma, Quebec. "The idea that this company should be an Olympic supplier would be laughable if it weren't so sad for our community."
Craig Jones, a third-generation miner from Kennecott, Utah -- where the metal used to produce the Olympic medals is mined - said "as miners, we are proud of the metals we produce, but they are tarnished by the unfair treatment of workers in Quebec and Rio Tinto's practices throughout the world. This company isn't living up to Olympic ideals of fairness and solidarity, so we want the medals recast using a supplier that does."