U.S. Steel says it never received an invitation to attend a meeting with Hamilton's steel committee earlier this week — and that's because the city didn't send the company a letter until the day of the meeting.
It’s been more than two months since U.S. Steel permanently shut down its iron and steel-making operations in Hamilton. Despite statements from Mayor Bratina promising to meet with company officials within a week of shutdown and the revival of the long-dormant committee, and two council motions regarding meetings with the company, basic lines of communication haven’t been established between the two.
"To be completely frank, I didn't even know there was a meeting until I saw reports," said U.S. Steel spokesperson Trevor Harris after the steel committee met earlier this week.
'It’s disappointing. It sounds to me like a logistical mix up.' - Coun. Brian McHattie
Harris told CBC Hamilton that U.S. Steel did receive a request from the city to attend an unspecified GIC meeting back in November, and that the company is "taking it under advisement."
Though the committee was revived months ago, its members still weren't sure when invitation letters were sent when contacted Friday morning. Logistical issues are likely contributing to the delay, said Coun. Scott Duvall, the chair of the committee.
“I’m not sure when the letters went out. I’ve been hounding them,” Duvall told CBC Hamilton. One of the clerks who was assigned to the project was moved to another portfolio, he said. The Christmas break also contributed to the delays.
“It’s disappointing,” said steel committee member Coun. Brian McHattie. “It sounds to me like a logistical mix up. I thought the committee made that request some time ago.”
'No specified timelines'
Christopher Newman, the legislative coordinator with the Office of the City Clerk told CBC Hamilton that the letters had been sent on Jan. 14- the same day the committee last met.
“The motion passed by council extending the invitation is a standing one, with no specified timelines,” Newman said. The steel committee is now in the process of confirming attendance for a meeting held during the second week of March that would include the city, U.S. Steel, MPs and MPPs.
That means it would be almost four months between the blast furnace shutdown and the first meeting between the city and U.S. Steel.
Harris says the company would be open to meeting with the city's steel committee "depending on the nature and context of the meeting." He says the company has to keep some financial info confidential "just like any business."
The steel committee plans to ask the company 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 which union reps say could jeopardize local pensions.
No luck with freedom of information requests
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 with the rest redacted, 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.
“What happens in 2015? No one knows what this deal is,” Duvall said. “The only ones who know are the Stephen Harper government and U.S. Steel.”
One of the reasons the committee is inviting local MPs and MPPs to a meeting in March is to find out what they know about the agreement. The city has been searching for information for two months, including examining legal options.
“We’ve been led to believe on the side that no one is going to find out what is in that document,” Duvall said.