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.
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."
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.
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.
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