In the latest chapter of one of the most outrageous tales of corporate theft in Canadian history, Justice Herman Wilton-Siegel ruled on August 19 that U.S. Steel Canada may set aside $1.57 million for “key employee” retention bonuses, but is not required to reinstate retirement benefits for more than 20,000 retired workers. The judge did order U.S. Steel Canada to contribute $2.7 million to a transition fund meant to fill in some of the gaps left by the loss of benefits.
As PV readers learned in previous coverage, U.S. Steel Canada entered bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in September 2014, and was granted permission to stop covering retiree benefits last October as a “cash-conservation measure”. But the judge’s order simply allows the company to steal money from workers who generated profits for their entire working lives.
As USW Local 1005 says, “the company is sitting on a mountain of cash and they can well afford to pay (benefits). We are not talking about the survival of a company, rather the theft of benefits already earned. It is similar to someone coming into your house, taking your wallet and stealing your money. If one of us did this, we would go to jail.”
Of course, human life is secondary to the profits of corporate interests. In this case, U.S. Steel Canada claims that reinstating the benefits owed to retirees could jeopardize the sale of the company, and that recent positive income reports should not be seen as a trend. Backing this view, the federal Liberal government remains absent from any step to protect steelworkers and the city of Hamilton.
The union argues that the ruling was likely predetermined and that the court case was a sideshow. Their demand for a full public inquiry should receive wide support.