The city’s steel committee says its hands are tied in lobbying for Hamilton until it can learn more details of a pair of agreements U.S. Steel made with the federal and provincial governments.
In 2009 and 2011, Ottawa penned agreements with the American company regarding its investment and productivity in Canada. But the government won’t share many of those details, which makes it hard for the newly revived committee to move ahead, said Coun. Sam Merulla.
The committee is assembling a round-table session with U.S. Steel, local unions and government officials to discuss, among other things, the details of those agreements. One in 2009 dealt with U.S. Steel’s takeover of Hamilton Works from Stelco. In 2011, the feds reached an out-of-court settlement when U.S. Steel broke some of those obligations.
But many of the specific details are a secret, which is “unconscionable,” Merulla said. And it makes it hard for the committee to move forward.
“We need to know what that (agreement) is before we can move forward on anything,” he said. “We need to hold them accountable on that agreement first and foremost.”
The committee met Thursday for the first time in years, reassembled after U.S. Steel’s recent announcement that it would permanently close iron and steel making in Hamilton. Coke making and steel finishing remains.
The committee has a mandate to lobby for Hamilton and see how it can help keep U.S. Steel alive and well in Hamilton. It also hopes to gauge any tax impact the company's changes could have, and to discuss the future of any waterfront land U.S. Steel may relinquish.
The settlements dominated discussion at the committee’s first meeting. In the 2011 settlement, the company pledged to keep producing steel in Canada until 2015 and invest an additional $50 million in Canadian facilities by December 2015.
City manager Chris Murray said he contacted government officials asking for more detail on the agreements, but was denied.
“We’re reviewing what has been said publicly,” said Murray. He’s also talking to city lawyers to see if “there is any other avenue we need to pursue.”
“We are looking for channels federally and provincially, but right now, we’re not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.”
The United Steelworkers local 1005 has the same questions, president Rolf Gerstenberger said.
The details of the 2009 agreement became public during the 2011 court challenge. But the results of the 2011 court challenge have never been public, he said. The union has put in a Freedom of Information Act request, which resulted in the release of two-thirds of one page. The full agreement is 31 pages, he said.
City staff is also looking at water lots — areas of Lake Ontario that were filled in around the former Stelco property. Mayor Bob Bratina wants to know who owns that land, whether U.S. Steel is using it and whether the corporation pays taxes on it.
Murray is looking into that too.
“It’s a good question,” he said. “I think that was the point of the meeting, to raise questions more than anything else, and to bring back answers.”
That will be the purpose of the round-table session too, which Murray said his staff will organize as soon as possible.
The committee’s No. 1 priority, members said, is the pensions of 8,000 Hamilton retirees.
It’s a valid concern, Gerstenberger said. After 2015, the company’s solvency deficiency will be about $800 million.