Economy

Merulla: Locked-Out US Steel Workers Deserve EI

By RTH Staff
Published November 22, 2010

this blog entry has been updated

In a press release issued yesterday, Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla called on the Federal Government to extend Employment Insurance (EI) benefits to the USWA Local 1005 steelworkers who have been locked out by US Steel.

Merulla writes:

US steel is attempting to starve Local 1005 members but continue producing steel with no impact on their bottom line with American workers and I am asking Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper to intervene on behalf of Canadian workers who are continually being bullied.

According to Service Canada](http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ei/types/regular.shtml#eligible), workers who "are unemployed because you are directly participating in a labour dispute (strike, lockout, or other type of dispute)" are not eligible to receive EI regular benefits.

Local 1005 has encouraged its members to apply for EI benefits anyway, citing extenuating circumstances. According to a union notice, Service Canada is in "fact finding mode" for this case. If workers are denied eligibility, they have the right to appeal the decision.

RTH contacted Councillor Merulla to ask about his ideas on how the Federal Government might implement his request. He responded, "A simple stroke of the pen of Prime Minister Harper would facilitate the need."

He added:

Keep in mind that this is more than a labour dispute. This is a fight against American protectionism. US Steel's bottom line is impacted but Local 1005 members are being impacted greatly. We need some balance in this fight and Harper is the only one who can intervene and make a difference.

RTH also contacted David Sweet, Conservative MP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. He responded:

You are correct, workers who take strike action or who are in a lockout situation are not eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. Certainly this is something that the union would have taken into account in their negotiation strategy and would have planned accordingly with the strike fund.

Due to the nature of the legislation that covers EI, we can't make exceptions to the rules governing EI eligibility on a case by case basis.

Having said that, I am following the situation closely and met with Local 1005 leaders last week in Ottawa. They apprised me of their position. I hope, for the sake of everyone and the families involved that the lockout ends quickly and all parties can return productively to the bargaining table.

Background

In early November, US Steel locked out 900 employees of its Hamilton Works operations after contract talks failed to produce an agreement. US Steel is demanding wage and benefit concessions. The company also wants to de-index pensions so they no longer increase with inflation and limit eligibility of new employees to the pension plan.

A mediator appointed by the Ontario Government was not able to bring the parties together, and the Local refused to bring the final US Steel offer to its members for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has launched a lawsuit under the Investment Canada Act against US Steel for allegedly violating its commitment to job preservation when the Feds approved the US Steel purchase of the former Stelco. The Government seeks over $15 million in fines, but US Steel has appealed the suit on several grounds.

Update: added response from MP David Sweet.

19 Comments

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2010 at 12:35:27

I think the fact that the workers were not put to a vote regarding the lockout, they should be eligble for EI. Many of them would not have voted for a strike, therefore they are locked out against their wishes. Government should force a vote when it comes to lockouts, and perhaps those who vote against get EI, and those that don't, don't?

Were some of these folks not already approved for EI? David Sweet might not know all the details.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 13:37:55

I am a member of USW 1005 who has been locked-out. The union executive's push-back to any EI ruling is that US Steel is using the lock-out as a creative lay-off. They are citing that steel production was stopped before the lockout was initiated therefor this is in reality a lay-off. US Steel told the employees the shut-down of the Blast Furnace was due to a lack of steel orders, thus strengthening 1005's position.

I highly doubt there is any chance of the EI action succeeding however there is some justification to 1005's lay-off argument, especially for employees of the Blast Furnace and Basic Oxygen Furnace.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2010 at 13:53:07

From what I've heard, US Steel deliberately was using the Stelco facilities to make crap steel anyways to try and sabotage the demand for their own product so they could come to the government hat-in-hand and say "we tried to make it work, but this place is hopeless" when they close it anyways.

Completely unsubstantiated, of course.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 14:55:36

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By steelhead (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 17:36:12

Maybe those fat assholes in the union, who unilaterally forced this lock out, should be offering their members something more than below poverty strike pay. Do you think the bargaining team is having to live off $100 a week?

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 22, 2010 at 17:52:02

Actually it's $200 a week. There was an article in The Spectator about 1005 executives strike pay, it is the same $200 a week as everyone else on the picket line. This can be verified at the next 1005 business meeting when the financial reports are given.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 23, 2010 at 08:45:24

I get sad watching and listening to Rolph Gerstenberger wailing away at Goliath. I find myself agreeing with his points and passion, but also discouraged by the realities of modern corporations. History is leaning strongly against this type of action. Economic, technological, and environmental issues have rendered steel to be the coal of this era. Hamilton carries alot of similarities to 1970 and 1980s northern England.

The jobs here are gone. Gone forever. The only lesson to take from this is not to treat the workers like Thatcher did the coal miners.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 23, 2010 at 11:09:56

If the steel jobs are gone, then why are other steelmakers (Arcelor-Mittal, and Max Aicher) expanding production in the area?

There is no future in an economy based only on imports. We all use tonnes of steel on a regular basis (structures, vehicles, etc) and it's got to come from somewhere.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 24, 2010 at 00:01:30

That type of steel comes from top of the line technologies. That is not the game of US Steel.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 24, 2010 at 15:06:55

TnT

We have some very good equipment and processes at US Steel, our automotive product is excellent. The issue is that we are not a 'fully integrated' steel plant meaning USS cannot convert its slabs to a 168" roll (I think that size is correct) on site. The slabs are shipped to other plants to be converted to rolls.

Stelco also was one of the few mills in North America that made safety critical steel, such as for suspension parts. This has to be the finest steel on the market due to the incredible liability issues if it fails and causes deaths. The new owner of the BB&B, Max Aicher, bought the bar mill because of the excellent product line that mill runs.

The steel made there is some of the best in the world, please don't think it is a quality issue when it is not. Some very poor product line choices in the past hurt Stelco while some great product line choices made Dofasco the powerhouse it is.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted November 25, 2010 at 21:39:24

I returned from a visit to Australia recently. While I was there I spoke to a top engineer (Grahm Shaw) who informed me that construction is moving away from steel and into seriously reinforced concrete. Rebar, I-bars and the like are fading into obsolescence in the rest of the 1st and even 3rd world because of advances.

My point is that automation and other factors mentioned above are the death toll of steel. The bigger issue is that these type of workers be treated with Social dignity in their exit strategy.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 25, 2010 at 23:27:30

Forgive my ignorance, but what will the concrete be seriously reinforced with, if not steel?

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 26, 2010 at 09:39:28

My point isn't a chemical engineering debate, but you can buy even residential product with waste fibers in it and then expoy and other strengthening agents shore them up.

However, this is not in defense of USsteel by any stretch. I fear that the union demands won't amount to anything unless the Feds back them up with more than fines which amount to nothing short of chumpchange to the big corporation.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 26, 2010 at 10:21:09

My point isn't a chemical engineering debate...

I know my question was off topic, but I wasn't trying to 'debate' you. Your observation about reinforced concrete without the use of steel made me curious. It seems there's been so much trolling around here lately, we don't recognize honest questions anymore. :-)

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By M_Oberver (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2010 at 15:31:57

From the point of view that my father worked in the Stelco labs from the 1960s on and is now deceased, US Steel has tried politics outside of their own country which I fear are inferior on an ethical, moral and legal stand point. Having family work in Dofasco as well growing up, it was well know that historical mills such as Bethlehem did not maintain plants at the high point of manufacturing (generating a stellar cash flow in the process) and thus failed. Is it not true that the technology and safety was invested in at Stelco, but the management failed? Understanding the previous union presidents, feathered their own nest first and through crumbs to the 1005 workers. It is apparent that Rolph Gerstenberger has inherited the short end of the stick. It is sad to watch and know that the outcome is very political and not about steel.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted November 26, 2010 at 22:49:54

Re reading my above post I guess I was a little defensive. I didn't want to derail from the serious issue at hand here. I in no way want to be the new turbo.

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By spine surgery (anonymous) | Posted March 04, 2011 at 13:19:05

the union said no, no, no to the company's offer!!!!!!! but the employment standards act. also said no , no ,no to the law strike, lock out or other labor dispute no U.I. but i,m on sick leave and can only get 15 week, surgeons said could be up to a year, was on U.I before this and U.I. said 15 weeks that the law. so no, no , no U.I for me, no U.I. THEM. this is a crime. i lose my house, well us stealer's go on a payed holiday. thanks Harper

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By eatme (anonymous) | Posted March 04, 2011 at 13:22:27

kick them all out. i will do the job.

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 05, 2011 at 04:39:46

Go point eatme. Unions went to far in Canada & the US, driving wages up for unskilled labour. This led to jobs be chased overseas.

Comment edited by hammertime on 2011-03-05 04:40:54

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