Thousands expected for Hamilton Day of Action for steel Saturday
Thousands of people hoped for to support Hamilton steel workers fight for their benefits
Thousands of labour supporters are expected in Hamilton this weekend as part of a rally to show support for local steel workers fighting for pensions, benefits and a viable steel industry.
The rally is being held as local steelworkers and retirees are anxiously watching the bankruptcy protection process underway for U.S. Steel Canada—a process that may or may not end with a viable steel company in the city and pensions for thousands of retirees.
The organizers are hoping for support from across the province alongside the local union members who will take to the streets at 1 p.m. Saturday.
If this can happen to steelworkers, who's next?- Jake Lombardo, retired, local 1005 executive
"Buses are coming from Ottawa, Quebec, Windsor, Sudbury, Niagara and Kitchener area", said Dennis Vanmeer, Vice President of USW local 1005 (United Steelworkers, Hamilton plant).
"The importance (of the rally) is to show politicians and everyone that taking benefits from 20,000 people is unacceptable and it has to stop, it has to change. If they can do it with our benefits, who's to say they can't do it with our pensions" said Vanmeer.
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The rally will feature a number of speakers including Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger as well as high profile members of the labour movement.
Steel part of the future
By holding the rally, USW local 1005 and 8782, which combined represent 1,600 workers at the Hamilton and Lake Erie plants, and thousands of retirees want to shed light on the current landscape of the steel industry in Hamilton.
Jake Lombardo, now retired, but a long-time 1005 activist, said: "I think it's important we get a lot of people out there."
Eisenberger said he wants to get out the message that steel is still part of the city's future.
"Steel is very much a part of our economy, we want it to continue. Let's not wish steel production away, let's embrace it."
There is great concern and disappointment over a decision made last October in the bankrupcty protection process to cut-off benefits given to tens of thousands of workers, both salaried retirees along with their dependants and union retirees.
Many feel it was 'unacceptable.'
We've been bargaining for over 70 years and with one stroke of a pen a judge can take it away, it's not right.- Jake Lombardo
"We have about 4,200 people who are making less than $1,000 a month...pensioners are having a hard time making ends meet" said Lombardo.
Lombardo is one of many who stand to lose 30% of their pensions.
"A lot of my former colleagues have it worse."
That's because some need medication or have stopped taking it because they can't afford it. Some have stopped going to the dentist for the same reason.
Lombardo's son and many of the other 'active workers' he said it hasn't been easy "a lot of them are on pins and needles wondering if there is going to be a buyer so they can still continue working."
70 years of bargaining
Early in October 2015, a bankruptcy court judge approved a transition plan that would sever U.S. Steel Canada from its U.S. parent company and allow it to suspend health-care benefits for tens of thousands of retirees.
Justice Herman Wilton-Siegal endorsed a plan for U.S. Steel Canada to form its own company to manage its Canadian assets. He also endorsed its request to suspend health-care benefits to 20 thousand pensioners, and to allow suspension on paying property taxes.
"It's like legalized theft," said Lombardo.
"They're attacking the most vulnerable people by taking their benefits and pensions and we're not going to sit back...we've been bargaining for over 70 years and with one stroke of a pen a judge can take it away, it's not right", he said.
"If this can happen to steel workers, who's next?"
The rally begins at 1pm at Hamilton City Hall, 71 Main Street, West. A march through the downtown core will follow. The walk begins at city hall, goes east to John Street, heads north on John to King Street East, West on King Street and ends with additional speeches at the Convention Centre, 1 Summers Ln.