Two months after permanently shutting down its iron and steel making in Hamilton, U.S. Steel remains a no-show at the city's steel committee.
The city invited the American company to a meeting of its steel committee held on Tuesday. But the company hasn't responded, nor has it reacted to any of the moves by the newly revived committee. And at Tuesday's meeting, councillors also began to express some frustration with the lack of response to the shutdown from the city's federal politicians.
The city first expressed its desire for a meeting with the company immediately after the shutdown was announced in late October.
At that time Mayor Bob Bratina said he expected to meet within a week. Then council revived the long dormant steel committee to develop a strategy for responding to the closure. City officials say they contacted the company about a meeting at that time. By mid-November, no response had been received.
Mayor Bob Bratina isn’t ruling out future communication between the committee and the corporate giant. But U.S. Steel didn’t respond to the invitation to Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Bob Bratina said.
'I have no confidence that any of the MPs or MPPs or U.S. Steel is going to help us whatsoever.' - Coun. Brian McHattie
“They don’t really need to,” he said.
“They have a reputation of doing things their own way. That’s common knowledge for the mayor of Gary, Ind. or wherever they operate.”
The revived committee is comprised of local politicians, some with experience in the steel industry. If U.S. Steel had attended on Tuesday, the committee would have asked about future plans for Hamilton Works, its plans for the large block of waterfront industrial land it occupies and a secret 2011 agreement between the corporation and the federal government.
The committee re-formed late last year after the company announced it would permanently shutter steel making in Hamilton.
Coun. Scott Duvall, chair of the committee, wouldn’t go as far as to say that the company is ignoring them.
“My understanding through the clerk’s office is yes, the letters (of invitation) went out, but I don’t know if they’ve received those letters,” he said.
As for meeting with the committee, “I don’t see why they wouldn’t. But if they didn’t, I would be very, very disappointed.”
But the company doesn’t have much of a reason to care what the city says, Coun. Brian McHattie said. He also thinks the city is being overlooked by the federal government, which won’t provide any more information on the 2011 agreement.
No confidence in U.S. Steel
Nothing short of a large-scale campaign leading up to the next federal election will make a difference, he said.
“I have no confidence that any of the MPs or MPPs or U.S. Steel is going to help us whatsoever, or more importantly, help the pensioners,” he said.
“We’re naive if we think inviting some MPs is going to make a difference. They’ll sit and listen courteously as they always do, and then it’s going to go away.”
'Why on God’s earth aren’t they answering our questions?' - Coun. Sam Merulla
Local union representatives did attend Tuesday’s meeting. At issue for them were the unknown details of the 2011 agreement, which they say could jeopardize local pensions.
Little is known about the 31-page agreement. It includes a U.S. Steel commitment to keep producing steel in Canada until 2015 and invest $50 million into Canadian facilities by December 2015.
The United Steelworkers submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the report and received three-quarters of a page back, said Rolf Gerstenberger, president of United Steelworkers local 1005.
He fears the secret parts of that agreement could result in the end of a special pension fund that’s keep some 8,000 Hamilton pensioners afloat, he said.
“We know it expires in 2015, but what expires in 2015?”
The committee is inviting local MPs and MPPs to a meeting over March break to find out what they know about the agreement. The city has been searching for information for two months, including examining legal options.
Need to know more about secret agreement
“Why on God’s earth aren’t they answering our questions?” Coun. Sam Merulla said.
“We need to know the answer. We need to know what that secret component is in that particular Investment Canada agreement.”
U.S. Steel could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
But MPP Ted McMeekin, who is also Ontario’s Minister of Community and Social Services, said if he’s free, he will be there for the March meeting.
“I would welcome the opportunity to be helpful if that’s possible.”