Steelworkers' benefits decision postponed in U.S. Steel Canada bankruptcy hearing

Decisions on reinstating retiree benefits and granting employee bonuses were postponed in court on Wednesday.

Court extends U.S. Steel Canada bankruptcy protection through November 30

Retirees like Domato Core have seen their health destroyed or terribly damaged by years of working in dangerous and heavily polluted environments, the union said in a motion. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

U.S. Steel Canada's protection from creditors will be extended through Nov. 30, Superior Court Judge Herman Wilson-Siegel ordered on Wednesday, to allow it time to continue negotiations with interested buyers.

About 30 retired steelworkers were bused in to the hearing in downtown Toronto to show support for a scheduled item asking the judge to reinstate their health benefits that were cut off last October.

But that motion – and a request from U.S. Steel Canada to pay bonuses to 35 "key employees" – was postponed to give the parties time to negotiate a solution outside of court, Wilson-Siegel said.

'It was a well-known thing that the place was dangerous'

Some of the greatest needs are people who've developed cancers after working in such a dangerous job on the steel mills, said steelworkers Local 1005 president Gary Howe.

Representing the steelworkers' union, attorney Max Starnino said the retirees showed up en masse on Wednesday even once they'd heard the matter might be postponed, to "punctuate how serious this issue is."

"These are literally life or death matters, and I don't hyperbolize when I say that," Starnino said. 

'A gold mine for lawyers'

The delays frustrate Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller, who attended the hearing and is himself a retired steelworker. He's called for a public inquiry about the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, calling it a "gold mine for lawyers." 

"It just keeps going on and on and on. More delays, you know, more extensions. More extending the deadlines – the same-old double-talk," he said outside court on Wednesday. "It's gotta end. People's lives are impacted on a monthly and daily basis."

Retired steelworkers speak with Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller after a Superior Court hearing Wednesday in downtown Toronto. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"You know, widowers, pensioners, coming in, struggling to pay their bills and lost their benefits," Miller said. "It's a disgrace. This is got to stop."

'A sense of urgency'

Retired steelworkers from Hamilton's Local 1005 and elsewhere argue the cost of not providing the benefits is far higher, and is being borne by retirees. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The delays seemed to irritate U.S. Steel, the American former parent company, too. 

Michael Barrack, attorney for U.S. Steel, argued the Canadian operation should not be allowed to continue under creditor protection.

The court monitor reported there is "positive progress" on the company's sale, but it's not happening quickly enough for U.S. Steel, the Canadian company's largest creditor.

"The process needs some degree of a sense of urgency," Barrack argued.

Ultimately, Wilson-Siegel decided that at this point, a hard deadline on the process would be counter-productive. 

Read more tweets from the court hearing Wednesday below. On mobile? Read here. 


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