A judge has extended a sale deadline to Feb. 28 to allow beleaguered steel company Hamilton Specialty Bar a little more time to find a buyer who would keep the company running.

In the balance hangs the fate of close to 200 unionized workers, about 50 salaried workers, 400 retired workers and their families – more than 1,000 people in Hamilton.

"Our working world, the one that we have known literally for generations, will be fundamentally destroyed by a closure and liquidation of HSB," wrote United Steelworkers Local 4752 president Mickey Mercanti in a court filing, pleading for the judge's approval Monday to extend the deadline, which was Friday.

"We are very optimistic that, with a little more time, we will be able to once again bring a successful going-concern bidder to the table with a viable plan to operate HSB," he said.

Work drying up

The company got the extension, but not all is good news at the plant. Though 167 unionized workers were called back to keep working after the company exploded financially last month, the work for them is coming to an end.

Wednesday is the last day the melt shop will be running. The majority of workers there will be paid through tomorrow. Some of the most senior of them might be able to pick up shifts in shipping, but only a few. The rest will be gone, with no benefits.

"I don't believe the judge would have granted an extension if he didn't think a deal to save us was possible." - Mickey Mercanti, president, USW local 4752

The rolling mill will either close up this Thursday or next.

Shipping will keep going, but only until it's not needed anymore.

"It looks like we will all be laid off within the next couple of weeks," Mercanti said. "Hopefully by the 28th, we have a buyer in place. I don't believe the judge would have granted an extension if he didn't think a deal to save us was possible."

Bob Hamilton

Bob Hamilton went back to work last month after being off on sick leave with liver cancer. His company, Hamilton Specialty Bar, is in receivership. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The layoffs come sooner than the Feb. 27 date until which many workers believed they'd have work, and benefits.

In his filing, Mercanti pointed out that many of the workers at the company are in the second or third generation of families that have been employed there.

"I myself have worked at HSB for 40 years, and I am number 20 on the seniority list," Mercanti said.

A sudden receivership

The company is now in receivership under the control of a trustee.

The first week of January, company executives told the union, United Steelworkers Local 4752, that they had a "cash flow problem" and wouldn't be running.

By Jan. 8, the papers had been filed for the company to enter a receivership, where a third party assumes control of the company while it is in court-supervised bankruptcy protection or restructuring.

But in mid-January, the plant was humming again, cranking out orders for the company's top three clients left in the lurch by the news of the shutdown. Those orders came with assurance of four weeks of work.

Hamilton Specialty Bar

Union leaders are "very optimistic" they'll find a buyer who will keep the plant running. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Beyond the active workers, about 400 retirees have lost their medical and other retirement benefits during the shutdown.

Veteran steelworker has work through this week, maybe next

Bob Hamilton, who has been with the company for 28 years, works in the rolling mill. Hamilton, 60, is at work this week, and possibly next, depending on how the crew produces.

He went back to work in January while still undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer, in hopes of saving up a bit of a safety net before he has to go on unemployment.

"I hope they get a buyer, and a progressive one, that will actually keep the mill and the whole place running for years down the road for all the younger employees," Hamilton previously told CBC Hamilton. "I need a few more years as well."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca