'We've got to move fast' to save steelmaker Hamilton Specialty Bar, union says

The clock will be ticking when union and court-appointed receiver representatives appear in court in Toronto on Thursday to apply for approval to find a buyer for Hamilton Specialty Bar.

‘We’ve got to move fast; this isn’t going to be a Stelco or an Algoma’: USW Ontario

Local steelmaker Hamilton Specialty Bar is in receivership, but 170 unionized workers are back on the job as of Tuesday for four weeks. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The clock will be ticking when union and court-appointed receiver representatives go to court in Toronto on Thursday to apply for approval to find a buyer for Hamilton Specialty Bar.

"We're going to have about two weeks," said Tony DePaulo, assistant to the United Steelworkers Ontario director.

DePaulo said in the case of the U.S. Steel Canada (later Stelco) bankruptcy, the company had access to financing that could carry it through receivership and restructuring.

At Specialty Bar, the court-appointed receiver called back 170 unionized workers to work in the melt shop and mill, cranking out orders for the company's top three clients left in the lurch by the news of the shutdown.

But they only have funding identified for four weeks. That's a far cry from the three years that U.S. Steel Canada/Stelco was in restructuring.

"We've got to move fast," DePaulo said. "This isn't going to be a Stelco or Algoma."

DePaulo said a non-disclosure agreement prevents him from getting into detail, but he said he's optimistic that there's enough interest in the company to see it sold rather than shuttered.

USW Local 4782 represents 170 unionized workers at the company.

A court will hear about a possible sale of Hamilton Specialty Bar on Thursday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

'He assured me that there wasn't a problem'

DePaulo had heard that the company had missed some payments toward the end of 2017 and set up a meeting with Gus Hiller.

"I met with the head of the company; he assured me that there wasn't a problem, just that they were in the process of selling," DePaulo said.

"I said, 'If there is a problem, I hope you would let me know,' and he said, 'No, there isn't a problem,'" DePaulo said. "Then I get a call last week from the receiver."

Hamilton Specialty Bar went into receivership Jan. 8. It used to be owned by Slater Steel and was purchased by a partnership of two American capital firms a decade ago, when Slater was in bankruptcy court.

The company, on Sherman Avenue North, molts its own steel and makes ingots and round bars, mostly for the automotive industry.  

Court documents say the company was in default on a $27.6 million loan with Wells Fargo as of the end of December.

About 400 retirees have lost their medical and other retirement benefits while the company is in receivership.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

About the Author

Kelly Bennett

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Kelly Bennett is an award-winning reporter who lives in Hamilton. She grew up in Victoria and covered economics and arts as an investigative reporter in San Diego. She loves digging into great stories, hiking and playing the violin. Drop her a line anytime at kelly.bennett@cbc.ca.

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