Canadian Manufacturing

Steelworkers say bad trade policy allowed BC plant closure

BURNABY, BC: The United Steelworkers (USW) say bad trade policy allowed the Denver-based Ball Corp., a supplier of rigid metal packaging products, to decide to close its Richmond, BC fish can plant.

Ball has informed the union, which represents trades and production workers at the No. 6 and River Road plant, that the plant would be closed in the first quarter of next year and their final day will be on March 31, 2011.

The USW says this is a prime example of a trade policy that does not benefit BC workers.

On September 1, Ball announced its plans to consolidate the production equipment in its Richmond plant into other company manufacturing facilities.

“Over the past two decades, our manufacturing operations in Richmond have decreased as market demand and customer needs have changed,” said Michael Feldser, president of Ball’s metal food and household products packaging division. “By consolidating the plant’s production into other Ball facilities, we will better control our costs in this very competitive market and further align our supply with customer demand.”

The Richmond plant manufactures steel cans for the Alaskan and Canadian salmon industry. It opened in 1985 and today employs about 40 people.

“As this announcement was made, BC fishermen had witnessed the largest sockeye salmon run that has been recorded since the early 1900s,” says Stephen Hunt, USW’s director of Western Canada. “Why the company would choose to shut the plant down is a mystery for workers and should raise a red flag for Ball Corp. investors as well.”

“The closure marks the final nail in the coffin of a packaging industry that has over 100 years of rich history on the BC Coast,” adds Hunt. “And it’s bad trade policy, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, that allows Ball to unbuckle the production equipment in Richmond and move it to other corporate operations.”

The company says it expects to be cash positive by about $8-million after the closure and final disposition of the land and building.

Ball announced that it is offering workers “outplacement” or severance under the collective agreement with USW Local 2009.

Steve Dewell, USW staff representative says, “We don’t know what ‘outplacement’ actually means for our members—none have been offered jobs or moving allowances.”

The USW will meet with the company on September 16, 2010 to discuss issues related to the closure.

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