Harper lives: The U.S. Steel robbery

By David Bush
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Thousands of steelworkers, community members, and union allies from across the province rallied outside of Hamilton’s city hall on Jan. 30. The demonstration was called to show support for the workers at U.S. Steel who have weathered major job losses and are now facing the loss of their benefits and pensions.

U.S. Steel, the Pittsburgh-based multinational, bought Stelco in 2007. Using the Investment Canada Act, the Harper government mandated U.S. Steel to meet production and employment commitments.

In 2009, U.S. Steel was winding down production at both the Nanticoke and Hamilton plants and laying off workers. Harper’s minority government was forced to respond and launched a lawsuit against the company. However, in 2011, the Harper government dropped the legal proceedings and signed a secret deal with the company.

In 2014, U.S. Steel, after forcing Hamilton and Nanticoke workers into three brutal lockouts, and laying off thousands, wound down production in Hamilton and filed for bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. It was an attempt by the company to leave Canada without having to fulfill its pension and land tax obligations.

In October, a court decision cut off the pensions and benefits to 20,600 former steelworkers. Two months later, the provincial government set up a temporary fund to provide partial benefits to pensioners – but that transitional fund will most likely only last till the end of March.

If the courts and the government allow U.S. Steel to cut and run, 20,600 pensioners will be left in the lurch. The transition plan approved by the courts also means U.S. Steel will not have to pay any of the $6 million in annual land taxes its pays to the city. The plants in Hamilton and Nanticoke will not be sold immediately.

12605466_1124937844217459_2349256839304869529_oThe court decision in October was a disaster not just for the steelworkers, or even the city of Hamilton, but for the entire labour movement. The underhanded way in which U.S. Steel has destroyed the steel industry in this country, attacked workers and pensioners – all with government collusion – sets a terrible precedent for workers who will undoubtedly see foreign multinationals and big corporations increasingly try to skirt their obligations through offshoring and restructuring.

Workers and pensioners are not taking this lying down. The steelworkers are not only fighting this in court, but mobilizing its members and the community to put pressure on the government to stop the U.S. Steel robbery.

The crowd and speakers at the rally demanded that the Liberals protect pensioners and unseal the secret deal signed by Harper.

“How can it be that the government remains on the sidelines when the steel industry is responsible for 20,000 direct jobs, over 100,000 indirect jobs,” said Marty Warren, United Steelworkers (USW) District 6 director, to the crowd outside Hamilton City Hall. “Yet we hear silence from the government?” said Warren.

“I can tell you why. Because the system is rigged! The system is rigged for the corporations, the powerful and the elite!”

12647304_1124937664217477_6806893387117816297_nAll the speakers – from the NDP leaders Thomas Mulcair and Andrea Horwath to the local USW leaders – thundered against U.S. Steel, the courts, the secret deal, and government inaction.

But for all the righteous words it was the very presence of USW members from Alma, Quebec at the rally who showed the true power when workers and communities come together to take action against corporate attacks and an unjust system.

Locked out by Rio Tinto in 2012 when they refused the company’s concessions, they were able to defeat the concessionary deal by building local support, garnering solidarity from USW members across the country.

The USW will continue to fight in the courts for a just resolution. However, as Warren rightly noted, the courts and the government, whether it Harper’s Tories or Trudeau and Wynne’s Liberals, time and again are too willing to side with the big corporations.

If the system is rigged, then only continued mobilizations and action, like last week’s rally, can build the pressure to stop U.S. Steel’s robbery and prevent other corporations from trying to pull a similar heist.

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4 thoughts on “Harper lives: The U.S. Steel robbery

  1. This is just another verse in an old song. Where workers stand in the way of making a quick buck the courts are brought in to clear the path. The game *is* rigged and it’s way past time to start a new game where the people who have common ownership of resources, and who do the work, plot the course. If things don’t change peacefully, history teaches us that they will be changed by force. The former option is still available, but not for much longer.

  2. Pingback: Harper lives: The U.S. Steel robbery | Branch Local 1 - Brewery Workers

  3. International companies must honour their debts to workers even if they leave a country.What is happening to too many workers is they have money owed them stolen even though the parent company is still financially afloat.The shell game must end.

  4. When going after their pensions; assets need to be seized & workers needs must be put ahead of any creditors. In situations like this workers are entitled to more pension than they probably realize.
    Pensions > Legislation: Act & Regulations > Individual Grow-in for members effective July 1, 2012 – New Grow-in Rules under Section 74 – Pension Benefits Act
    What is “grow-in”?
    As of July 1, 2012, a pension plan member is entitled to grow-in to certain benefits if his / her pension plan provides defined benefits, & he or she ceases to be a member because his/her employment is terminated or the plan is wound up. This right entitles the eligible plan member to receive the pension beginning on the date on which the member would have been entitled to an enhanced or unreduced pension under the pension plan, if his/ her employment / membership had continued to that date. To be eligible for grow-in benefits:
    • the member must be employed in Ontario at the time of wind up or termination of employment;
    • the member’s age plus years of continuous employment or membership in the plan at the effective date of wind up/ the effective date of termination must equal at least fifty five (55); and
    To be eligible to grow-in to bridging benefits under the plan the member must have at least 10 years of continuous employment with the employer/ have been a member of the plan for at least 10 years.
    For example, a plan may provide that a member is entitled to begin receiving an unreduced pension when he or she reaches 60 years of age. The plan also offers a bridging benefit payable from age 60 to age 65. If a member’s membership is terminated when he or she is 48 and at the date of termination the member has 10 years of continuous employment or membership in the plan, the member would be eligible to begin receiving an unreduced pension when he or she is 60. This is because the member’s age plus years of continuous employment or membership in the plan is equal to at least 55 on the effective date of termination. The pension the member will receive will be based on the benefits he or she earned as at the effective date of wind up or termination and would also include the bridging benefit offered under the pension plan because the member has 10 years of continuous employment with the employer or has been a member of the plan for 10 years. -06/12
    How are the new grow-in provisions different from those in effect before July 1, 2012?
    Prior to July 1, 2012, eligible members of a pension plan that provided defined benefits were entitled to receive grow-in benefits only when they ceased to be members of their pension plans on the wind up of the plans. As of July 1, 2012, eligible members will be entitled to grow-in benefits in a broader set of circumstances (referred to in the new grow-in provisions as “activating events”). -06/12
    What circumstances trigger payment of grow-in benefits? As of July 1, 2012, the legislation identifies the following as “activating events” that will trigger the payment of grow-in benefits:
    • the wind up of the pension plan;
    • the employer’s termination of the member’s employment without cause, if the effective date of termination is on or after July 1, 2012; and
    • the member resigns before the termination date specified in a written notice of termination of employment given to him / her by the employer. -06/12
    I am employed in Ontario and my pension plan is registered with British Columbia. My employment was terminated on July 1, 2012. Am I entitled to grow-in benefits?
    You are entitled to grow-in benefits if:
    • your age, plus years of continuous employment / membership in the plan total at least 55 on your termination date; and
    Grow-in: A plan member employed in Ontario who is terminated involuntarily, without cause, & the sum of age & service is 55 or more (“55 points”) must be provided with “grow-in” to the plan’s early retirement subsidies.
    “Grow-in” means that any reduction to a former employee’s pension due to retirement prior to the plan’s normal retirement age is determined as if the employee had continued to be employed with the employer until retirement. If the former employee elects to transfer the commuted value of his/her pension to a locked-in retirement account, the value of the grow-in entitlement must be reflected in the calculation of the commuted value. When terminating an employee who is close to attaining 55 points, an employer will need to decide whether it’s appropriate in the circumstances to “bridge” the employee to his / her 55 point date through the use of salary continuance.

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