Nfld. & Labrador

'We have members literally starving': Pasadena woman fights for Wabush pensioners

Western Newfoundland woman volunteers her time to speak up for hundreds of families who have lost medical benefits, life insurance and up to 25 per cent of pensions.

Young woman volunteers time to be the voice for hundreds of Wabush Mines retirees

Chelsea Lacey and her family moved to Pasadena in 2014 after they lost their jobs at Wabush Mines. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A woman in Western Newfoundland is volunteering her time to be a voice for hundreds of families who are facing hardships since losing medical benefits and large amounts of monthly income since the Wabush Mines closure.

It's been three years since Chelsea Lacey and her young family were forced to leave Labrador and start a new life. Lacey and her husband, like many others, lost their jobs in 2014 when Cliffs Natural Resources shut down Wabush Mines.

"It was a lot of what are we going to do now," said Lacey who remembers those days after getting the news.

Lacey worked in the union office which represented the workers at Wabush Mines. In her day-to-day job as office manager, she dealt with grievances, retirement questions, and helping widows fill out paperwork — just some of her duties.

It was a role that Lacey took pride in. She truly cared for the people that she worked with, and that's why three years later she's still helping them.

Cliffs Natural Resources shut down activity at the mines in 2014. (CBC)

What's happened since the closure has blindsided Lacey and the pensioners.

"You work 30 years, you sign an agreement for a retirement package — you don't think it's going to be taken away."

But for hundreds of families that Lacey speaks with weekly, that's exactly what happened. 

Lacey worked for the union that represented miners, and when they lost their jobs, she did too. (CBC)

She said in the last couple years retirees have lost their medical benefits and life insurance and between 21 and 25 per cent of their pension which she says is a huge hit.

Still a voice

Three years after leaving Labrador Lacey and her family are settled into a new life in western Newfoundland, in Pasadena. 

While her husband has found work at the mill in Corner Brook, Lacey is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers her time to speak up for the families from Wabush. 

"A lot of people don't know where to go, how to get in touch with all these people, how to go about trying to get legislation changed, trying to get in touch with the premier's office." 

Signs like this were practically non-existent in Labrador West a few years ago. But that's all changed following a downturn in the iron ore industry, highlighted by the closure of Wabush Mines in 2014. (CBC)

Lacey figures she is a voice for 200 to 300 families, who are living all over the province. 

"My father was a retiree and he was affected by this. So, I feel, I'm the daughter, and I shouldn't go down without a fight."

She is fighting for help, and for legislation to prevent something like this from happening again. She said the stories are heartbreaking.

"We have members literally starving. Literally dying because they can't afford to live — they can't afford anything."

Not giving up

Lacey said she's met with both the provincial and federal governments but the message is the same — their hands are tied. Lacey says that's not good enough.

But, it's more than what she's hearing from Cliffs Natural Resources. 

"We haven't heard anything from them at all," says Lacey, who adds it's incredible frustrating. 

In a statement to CBC News, the provincial Service NL department said it has done what it can in matters that fall within provincial jurisdiction.

It has also offered support to protect pensioners as the matter is heard in a Quebec court.


Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.