We’ve seen this steelworker movie before

By MPP Toby Barrett

It took seven months for US Steel’s Lake Erie Works at Nanticoke to end a bitter lockout. Area steelworkers are again locked out – this time at Hamilton’s Hilton Works.

Rumours are, the lockout may permanently close Hilton’s blast furnace and end 100 years of steelmaking.

For these reasons I recently rose in the Legislature demanding action on the US Steel front. With no answers forthcoming, I requested a “late show debate”, as has my NDP colleague Paul Miller, MPP for Hamilton East – Stoney Creek.
My enquiries generated answers involving four government members – Acting Premier Dwight Duncan, Minister of Labour Peter Fonseca, and MPP David Ramsay on behalf Premier McGuinty.

The Premier’s office maintains government has met its objectives, “to ensure the long-term viability of the former Stelco, and to protect the pensions of the retirees and current employees.” On behalf of the Premier, MPP Ramsay noted that current work involved the Ministries of Finance, Economic Development and Trade, and Labour, adding, “We’ll continue to do everything we can to assist the parties to find an agreement.” I have subsequently contacted all of these Ministries for updates, but, at time of writing, have received no response.

The Ontario government did provide a conciliator. When conciliation failed, the conciliator became a mediator who issued a no-board report – a precursor to the lockout – following little resolution during mediation.

US Steel acquired Stelco Inc. in 2007 for $1.2 billion. This was Canada’s last domestically owned steel mill. Just previous to the takeover, taxpayers doled out $150 million during Stelco’s bankruptcy protection. As well, US Steel received federal government approval based on job and steel production commitments – commitments that have yet to be met.

I continue to question the Ontario government’s input with the federal level. For their part, the federal government lawsuit against US Steel for breaking promises to maintain production and employment levels remains tied up in constitutional and other procedural challenges by the company – the court is not expected to get to the substantive issues before March or April next year. The original three year job and production commitment between US Steel and Ottawa ran out at the beginning of November.

In 2009, Local 8782 steelworkers at Nanticoke saw 1,100 laid off; 157 were locked out until last spring. Thankfully most, headed back to work after the April agreement. I say most, as there remains an issue for the 47 workers who belong to the same union local, but work for the former Heckett, now called Harsco Metals. They remain locked out since March of 2009!

So, today we continue to wait with locked out employees to see if government will play any role whatsoever in ensuring Hilton Works and Heckett/Harsco get back to what they do best – making steel and making money.

That’s exactly what they’re doing at two American blast furnaces brought back into production by US Steel a month after the Hilton furnace was idled – and that’s what they’re doing just down the road at Arcelor- Mittel Dofasco where they are stepping up production by starting up its small blast furnace to meet increased demand for steel.

Much as Smucker’s will negatively impact families so too will the recent Hilton Works lockout. It’s time for significant action to support the jobs we still have in our area.