TORONTO, Nov. 4, 2015 /CNW/ - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne are being urged to provide meaningful help to thousands of vulnerable pensioners whose critical health-care benefits were taken away overnight by multinational U.S. Steel.
"I request your government's immediate attention to the plight of some 20,000 retirees and surviving spouses whose rights to post-retirement health care benefits have been torn from them," USW National Director Ken Neumann states in an open letter delivered today to the prime minister.
A similar open letter, co-signed by Neumann and USW Ontario Director Marty Warren, has been sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne.
The USW letters also call on the prime minister and premier to show tangible support for Canada's struggling steel industry and to unseal a secret deal between the federal government and U.S. Steel.
On Oct. 10, while in the midst of court-supervised insolvency proceedings, U.S. Steel Canada abruptly eliminated critical health benefits and prescription drug coverage for its 20,000 pensioners and surviving spouses.
"These are vulnerable people who have done nothing wrong. They are losing essential health care benefits earned as deferred compensation during a work life spent in a heavy industrial setting," state the letters to Trudeau and Wynne.
The pensioners must now "attempt to pay for treatments which are required for their survival and quality of life and which are often prohibitively expensive."
The estimated annual cost of providing benefits to the pensioners is $40 million. However, the Ontario government has proposed only a $3-million fund to help the pensioners.
"Clearly, Ontario's response is completely inadequate. The $3-million fund proposed by the province is hardly worth the cost of setting up a mechanism to determine how it would be allocated and to whom," the USW leaders state.
"More provincial money is needed. Money from the Government of Canada is also needed if retirees are to be protected."
With U.S. Steel announcing its plan to "disengage" and walk away from its Canadian operations, it is crucial for the Trudeau government to take action to open the secret deal previously reached by the company and the government, the USW says.
In approving U.S. Steel's takeover of the former Stelco, the federal government had a legal responsibility to ensure the takeover would provide a "net benefit" to Canada, Neumann says in his letter to Trudeau.
"The Government of Canada bears some real responsibility for the plight of retirees and current employees," he says.
The federal and provincial governments also must support an action plan and strategy to ensure the viability and sustainability of a Canadian steel industry, including the Hamilton and Nanticoke facilities that U.S. Steel wants to abandon, the USW says.
"The USW calls on the Government of Ontario to provide funding necessary for U.S. Steel Canada, as an independent Canadian corporation, to survive the current challenges and to plan for future operations," says Warren.
The Canadian steel sector employs more than 20,000 workers and indirectly supports more than 100,000 jobs across the country.
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951; Marty Warren, USW Ontario Director, 416-243-8792, [email protected]; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, [email protected]