Company Without Conscience

Alaskan Copper’s announcement to close the Coquitlam facility is without conscience. They announced to employees and the Union on May 29, 2020 that they had sold their vast property on North Rd, Coquitlam to Translink. The result was that the operations was closing over the following few months.

The company claimed their decision was a reflection of metal market conditions, issues resulting from COVID-19, and scant opportunities to acquire an equivalent site nearby.

For the workers, that logic was difficult to digest. Workers at the facility would tell you that business is doing very well and there has been no shortage of orders or work. They would also tell you that COVID-19 has had very little effect on business partly due to the Union ensuring an effective Exposure Control Plan was rapidly put into place at the start of the global pandemic. The last part of their reasons was equally baffling. Scant opportunities to acquire an equivalent site nearby? Where are they looking? Downtown Vancouver? Coal Harbour?

The fact is that there is plenty of affordable light industrial space available in the lower mainland through to the Fraser Valley. So, what is the real reason for the closure? Profit and greed?

No question that the company made a bundle on the sale of the property to Translink. Whether they really wanted to sell or not is irrelevant. They did so voluntarily and at a handsome profit. This is indisputable.

The tragedy in this closure is not Alaskan Copper, it is the couple of handfuls of employees (both union production workers, office staff, and supervisors) who through their high level of professionalism and dedication has kept Alaskan Copper a profitable company for a few decades.

How have these dedicated employees been rewarded you may wonder?

The company gave the Union Section 54 notice on May 29th. The Labour Code requires that upon notice the company and Union are required to negotiate an adjustment plan in an attempt to minimize the negative impact on families and communities due to the permanent job losses.

Lets start with the fact that since the initial notice in May, the company has failed to confirm or advise of any formal end date to the operations. This has left all the workers in a state of anxiety not knowing when their final day of work is, or when their last pay cheque will occur. How do they prepare or plan for the future? How are they expected to look for alternate employment without knowing or being able to tell a potential employer what their availability to start new job is? Looking for new employment during a global pandemic is a challenge in itself. Knowing that their employment and benefits are quickly ending, many workers are scrambling to get necessary dental, vision and medical issues addressed while they still have benefits but finding it almost impossible to get an appointment due to COVID-19 backlogs.

With all of this in mind the Union tabled a modest package of proposals in the spirit of co-operation and concluding an adjustment plan, requesting some specific assistance to help employees overcome some of the significant challenges caused by the closure.

Examples of the requests include,

• A short extension of Extended Health and Dental benefits subsequent to the closure
• Assistance in preparing a resume and some job interview coaching;
• The ability to accept alternate employment with a new employer without being penalized in their severance pay

To date Alaskan Copper has only agreed to abide by any specific legal or contractual obligations. They have offered nothing more.

According to the Collective Agreement in force, the highest seniority employees will only receive 5 days pay for each year of service to a maximum of 15 weeks. Of course, this severance pay is considered deferred earnings and therefore subject to a significant period of disentitlement to Employment Insurance benefits.

Alaskan Copper has also interpreted the BC Employment Standards Act to mean that they as a company are not required to give any notice of layoff/termination because the collective agreement has the severance provisions in it. So, the company is saying, that because their employees negotiated a wage deferral clause, earnings that negatively impact Employment Insurance benefits, the company should be able to lay off a 20 year employee the moment that worker shows up to work one morning without any advance notice or any consequences.


The Union will continue to advocate and litigate where necessary to ensure that even in a plant closure, all of their members are respected and treated with dignity.

However, this is certainly not an isolated story. Week after week brings announcements of layoffs , curtailments and closures. Surely some of these closures are unavoidable but just as sure is the reality that some could be prevented if only the Government would be able to act on behalf of workers, employers, and communities in order to investigate real alternatives, real solutions in avoiding business closures.

USW Local 2009 is calling Government for the repatriation of the BC Job Protection Act.

The Office of the Job Protection Commissioner was created by the Social Credit government of BC in the 1980's. The mandate and legislative direction for the Office instructed it to work with willing stakeholders to bridge communities, workers and individual companies through difficult periods in a sector. This work focused mostly, although not exclusively, on companies in the resource sector trying to survive through periods of instability.


he Office of the Job Protection Commissioner fell under the jurisdiction of the Job Protection Act. The purpose of this Act was;
(a) to minimize job loss and the consequent destabilization of regional or local economies, particularly those mainly dependent on one industry, and
(b) to preserve, restore and enhance the competitiveness of business enterprises in British Columbia and in the global marketplace
(c) to encourage business enterprises to obtain management consulting and counselling services,
(d) to provide mediation services to business enterprises and interested parties in order to encourage cooperation conducive to the effective operation of the business enterprises, and to enable business enterprises and interested parties to establish, subject to this Act, economic plans.
The Office worked with all impacted stakeholders, lenders, first nations, suppliers, governments and workers. Economic plans approved by the office tended to encourage risk and reward sharing so all stakeholders who sacrificed to make an operation viable also shared in the future benefits when the plan was achieved. Over 100,000 direct and indirect jobs were saved by the Office.

Successful examples of the Commissioner's work include: Cominco Trail Smelter, Evans Forest Products - Golden BC, Avcorp, Delta BC, and Mount Polley Mine.

Gordon Campbell's BC Liberal government ended funding for the office when they were first elected in 2001 and later rescinded the enabling legislation, citing no need for market interference by the government.

Today there is no clear contact when workers, corporations, or communities seek assistance in a company or industry restructuring.

USW Local 2009 urges the government to restore the Office of the Job Protection Commissioner to assist companies, communities and workers who may face difficult market downturns.

We cannot in any circumstances continue to turn a blind eye to the injustice caused by corporate unconscionable behaviour.

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