MPPs urge Trudeau to act on U.S. Steel

3 November 2015

Justin Trudeau is being urged to tear down the veil of secrecy around a controversial 2011 deal between U.S. Steel and the federal government.

In a joint letter Monday, MPPs Paul Miller and Dave Levac tell the prime minister-designate the security of 20,000 vulnerable people depends on him.

"We are writing to you today to ask for your support in protecting the workers and pensioners of U.S. Steel Canada, the former Stelco Inc., in southern Ontario," they say. "U.S. Steel Canada is in bankruptcy protection and the actions of its parent corporation are threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers and the retirement security of over 20,000 pensioners."

Miller, the NDP member for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, and Levac, who is the Liberal member for Brant, represent ridings with heavy concentrations of USSC workers and retirees.

Miller and Levac recite a now familiar litany of failures by U.S. Steel and its Canadian arm: promises to meet employment and production targets in Canada, to contribute $70 million a year to top up seriously underfunded pension plans, to make $250 million in capital investments in its plants.

Based on those commitments, the Harper government approved the 2007 takeover of Stelco as providing a net benefit to Canada.

Instead of meeting its commitments, however, Miller and Levac say the company shut down the bulk of its Canadian operations, locked out workers three times to enforce demands for contract changes, filed for court-supervised creditor protection, shifted production of its highest-value product out of Canada and sought court and gained approval to stop paying municipal taxes and health benefits to retirees.

The Harper government did sue the company in Federal Court in 2009 to enforce the original promises, but suddenly dropped the suit in 2011 in exchange for a package of promises that have never been fully revealed.

Without that detail, Miller and Levac say pensioners, creditors and others are at a serious disadvantage in negotiating amid a restructuring of the Canadian company.

"One of the greatest challenges to holding companies to their commitments is not knowing what commitments were made in the first place. It is within the federal government's power to release the details of the secret agreement reached between the Government of Canada and U.S. Steel in 2011," they wrote.

"Without this information, the provincial government and the workers, retirees and communities affected by U.S. Steel's actions are operating at a manifest disadvantage in the restructuring proceedings."

Workers and others have already asked the judge overseeing the company's creditor protection to order the release of the agreement, but he refused on the grounds he lacks the authority. That decision is under appeal. A hearing at the Ontario Court of Appeal is scheduled for Nov. 19.