1.28.2011

action alert part 4 of 4: the people vs u.s. steel

Tomorrow, January 29, labour and solidarity contingents from all over Ontario will pour into Hamilton for a major labour demonstration: The People vs. U.S. Steel.

Many of my friends will be on buses from Toronto, and I wish I could be there with them. But we can all show our support, because the fight for decent jobs is a fight for us all. A letter to your local newspaper, a letter to US Steel, an email to Stephen Harper's office, an email of support to Local 1005, can all make a difference.

Workers at the U.S. Steel plant have been locked out of their jobs for three months - and counting. Until recently, although they are involuntarily out of work, they were denied EI benefits!

These workers were once employed by Stelco, a Canadian company. When U.S. Steel took over Stelco in 2007, it negotiated terms with the Province of Ontario as a condition of sale. Surprise, surprise, U.S. Steel now reneges on those terms, seeking to deprive 900 workers and 9,000 pensioners of the pensions that were in their contracts. The lockout is an attempt to force the workers to concede.

To understand what's at stake, please read this piece by Ken Neumann, National Director, Canada, United Steelworkers union:
Louie Fiori worked in the Stelco steel mills and shops in Hamilton for 40 years. It was hard work, often in difficult conditions. But it paid an honest dollar and allowed Louie and his wife, Mary, to buy a home and build a life in Hamilton.

Over his four-decade career at Stelco, Fiori was involved in numerous contract negotiations, as well as four strikes, as a member of the United Steelworkers. In total, the Steelworkers negotiated 17 contracts at Stelco’s Hamilton operations from 1946 to 2007.

More often than not during those negotiations, Fiori and his fellow Steelworkers sacrificed wage increases and other gains in order to build a pension plan that would someday allow them to retire with dignity.

In other words, the indexed pensions received today by retired Stelco workers are not gifts bestowed by a benevolent employer. They represent deferred income, fully earned by workers over decades of sacrifice and hard-fought battles in collective bargaining.

When Louie Fiori died last year, his wife, Mary, began receiving a reduced widow’s pension, as provided under the plan negotiated by the Steelworkers.

Today, Mary receives a pension barely topping $500 a month. It’s a modest sum, to be sure, but it would be much less had Steelworkers not negotiated inflation protection for their pensions more than 20 years ago.

Without indexing, Mary Fiori’s pension today would be less than $400 a month. Other Stelco pensioners would be even worse off. As the real value of their pensions declined with each passing year, they would be fighting a losing battle to keep up with the rising costs of everything from food to home heating.

It is important to know this history, to better understand the travesty of U.S. Steel’s lockout of its Hamilton workforce and its disgraceful attack on the modest pensions of thousands of seniors like Mary Fiori.

It also is crucial to remember that, to secure government approval to buy Stelco in 2007, U.S. Steel made legal commitments that the takeover would produce a “net benefit” to Canada. U.S. Steel’s pension obligations were very well-known when it bought Stelco and made its commitment.

In the ensuing years, of course, U.S. Steel has infamously broken its promises, such as maintaining Canadian employment and production levels. It has imposed multiple shutdowns of Canadian operations, provoked labour disputes and thrown thousands of Canadian workers out of their jobs, all the while shifting production to American facilities.

Those broken promises were so flagrant U.S. Steel became the first foreign corporation (out of more than 1,600) to be taken to court by the Canadian government for breach of the Investment Canada Act.

Perhaps the most reprehensible betrayal of its net-benefit promise to Canada, however, is U.S. Steel’s attack on thousands of vulnerable senior citizens.

In fact, a major reason U.S. Steel locked out its 900 Hamilton workers on Nov. 7 was to try to coerce current union members to consent to the elimination of pension indexing for 9,000 pensioners.

If U.S. Steel had its way, pensioners such as Mary Fiori would lose the meagre annual inflationary increases to their pensions. With each passing year, they would find it harder and harder to make ends meet, and they would suffer accordingly.

The locked-out members of United Steelworkers Local 1005 have said no to U.S. Steel’s breaking of commitments to our pensioners. They also have said no to U.S. Steel’s attempt to deny future workers a secure pension plan.

The Steelworkers don’t believe a foreign multinational should treat our senior citizens so callously when they buy our industries and resources.

On Saturday, citizens of this city will converge on City Hall to support the pensioners of this community. Together, we will demand U.S. Steel meet its obligation to negotiate a fair deal with Hamilton’s workers.

This drama in Hamilton is playing out in many communities across Canada. Saturday’s action is standing up for Hamilton and every community being devastated by a foreign corporate takeover.

Our communities must come first. More and more, we Canadians must say no to broken corporate promises, and call on our government to ensure foreign takeovers provide real, lasting benefits to our families, pensioners and communities.

The People vs. U.S. Steel: Hamilton City Hall, 71 Main Street West, beginning at 1:00 p.m.

4 comments:

M@ said...

It's really sad to see how the US Steel thing went. From the biggest employer in Hamilton to this -- it's a sad, sad shame.

I will actually be in Hamilton tomorrow, but I won't be able to actually go to the demonstration; if I can go by and honk in support, though, I will.

impudent strumpet said...

Self-linking but distressingly relevant:

Last year I blogged about how my grandmother's employer offered the employees a pension plan, but they voted not to have one because most of them had spouses who already have pensions.

Most of those spouses probably had Stelco pensions.

They gave up the opportunity to have their own pensions (thereby denying my grandmother the opportunity to have a pension!) because, based on observing labour relations over the years, they had no reason to believe Stelco would take their spouse's pension away, and they wanted to keep the money they'd be paying into their own pension to pay off the mortgage or send a kid to university or maybe have a vacation once in a while.

And Stelco didn't take the pensions away, but U.S. Steel is. And my grandmother's former co-workers are now probably, like my grandmother, 80ish, in no condition to return to the workforce after 15-20 years away, and already trying to figure out how they can afford a decent nursing home on their already-limited budgets.

laura k said...

I remember that post (and I'm glad you linked to it) but I didn't know or remember it was Stelco.

Wow. Horrible. Frightening.

Jere said...

In this battle, rooting for U.S. Steel is like...rooting for U.S. Steel!