The federal Conservative government must accept its responsibility for 20,000 pensioners who are immediately losing critical health benefits and prescription drug coverage, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.
"There will be 20,000 pensioners waking up tomorrow without health benefits and prescription drug coverage, because of the Harper government's secret deals with U.S. Steel. It's a disgrace," said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren.
"We're calling on Stephen Harper to directly address this crisis and to take meaningful action – before October 19th," Warren said.
The United Steelworkers (USW) will continue to fight to protect U.S. Steel Canada workers and pensioners, following a court ruling today allowing the company to stop paying health and other benefits.
Pensioners are expected to lose their benefits at midnight tonight.
"U.S. Steel and the federal government must be condemned in the strongest possible terms for callously abandoning their commitments and responsibilities, particularly to some of the most vulnerable residents of our communities," Warren said.
"We will continue to pursue every avenue at our disposal to defend the jobs, pensions and benefits of our members and pensioners," he said following the Ontario Superior Court ruling in U.S. Steel Canada's bankruptcy protection proceedings.
The decision by Superior Court Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel approved a plan for U.S. Steel Canada to be severed from parent company U.S. Steel.
The court-sanctioned plan also allows U.S. Steel Canada to stop paying for health and prescription drug benefits for more than 20,000 pensioners, as well as to stop paying municipal taxes to the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County.
"U.S. Steel caused this crisis because it set up its Canadian operations to fail," said Gary Howe, President of USW Local 1005 in Hamilton.
"Now U.S. Steel is walking away from this devastation, while U.S. Steel Canada's restructuring plan targets thousands of vulnerable and sick pensioners by taking away the medical benefits and prescription medications they desperately need," Howe said.
"Our federal government allowed U.S. Steel to take over some of the most modern and efficient steelmaking facilities in North America, based on legal commitments to workers, pensioners and communities," said USW Local 8782 President Bill Ferguson, representing workers at U.S. Steel Canada's Nanticoke operations.
"The Conservative government allowed U.S. Steel to starve our operations, export our work to the U.S. and break all of its obligations to maintain jobs and production in Canada. It's time for this government to step up – before this election – and help us save and rebuild this industry," Ferguson said.
"The United Steelworkers is committed to building a prosperous Canadian steelmaking company again," said Warren.
"We are committed to reversing the damage caused by U.S. Steel and the Conservative government. We need our government to finally stand up for Canadian workers, pensioners and communities," he said.
Warren noted that the USW has had discussions with Ontario government officials and the province will provide $3 million for a hardship fund to help U.S. Steel pensioners pay for health care and prescription drug costs. The fund is expected to cover costs for six months, he said.
"We are exploring other possibilities and arrangements to help address these issues and we will continue to communicate with our members and pensioners accordingly," he said.
20,000 pensioned steelworkers lose critical health and drug benefits