WABUSH, NL, March 13, 2017 /CNW/ - Amid mounting reports of life-threatening health crises and economic hardship for Cliffs Natural Resources pensioners, urgent action is required from the federal and Newfoundland and Labrador governments, the United Steelworkers (USW) says.
"It has been more than a year since vital health benefits were taken away from these pensioners, widows and laid-off workers. Their pensions have been slashed. They can't afford to pay for medications and treatments they desperately need. All they have heard from their federal and provincial governments are sympathetic words, without any real help," said Marty Warren, the USW's Director for Atlantic Canada and Ontario.
"Talk is cheap. People are suffering and they need meaningful support, not just sympathy, from their governments. It's time for the federal and provincial governments to take meaningful action," Warren said.
The USW is calling for an emergency meeting with federal and provincial politicians to implement a plan for immediate assistance to the pensioners and former workers of Cliffs Natural Resources' Wabush Mines operations.
"We're ready to meet with the prime minister, the premier – whatever it takes to get a commitment to help people whose plight worsens by the day," Warren said.
The Cliffs Natural Resources pensioners saw their health benefits eliminated last year after the company closed its Canadian operations, which were placed under creditor protection under terms of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). The pension plan had not been fully funded and pensions were subsequently cut by 21 to 25%.
The increasing hardships faced by Cliffs pensioners and laid-off workers in Labrador were on display last week during a radio call-in program. One caller after another recounted heartbreaking stories, some pleading for support from their governments.
A terminally ill pensioner said she and her husband have been forced to choose between buying food and her potentially life-saving medication that used to be covered by their pension benefits.
"This month we had to decide whether to buy my heart medications, or groceries," she said.
The wife of a former Cliffs employee suffering from work-related cancer spoke about the prohibitive cost of medication and treatment that should be covered by the workers' benefit plan.
Jim Skinner, a pensioner and former local union president at Wabush Mines, said he has heard too many such stories.
"There are so many people going through life-changing events like this. This should not be allowed to happen. We depended on our governments to put in legislation to protect us. Nothing has been done for the last two-plus years for the people of Wabush," Skinner said.
"There's heartbreak and there's anger because our governments aren't helping. They allow corporations to cut the benefits and pensions that we earned. They weren't given to us; we negotiated them, they belong to us," he said.
"It's time for the federal government to stop allowing corporations to abandon their responsibilities to workers, pensioners and their communities," said Ken Neumann, USW National Director.
"The federal government must pass legislation that puts workers and pensioners first in bankruptcy and creditor protection cases. Why does this government continue to protect corporations while abandoning workers and retirees who earned their benefits and pensions over a lifetime of work?"
SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)
For further information: Marty Warren, USW Ontario Director, 416-243-8792, [email protected]; Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, [email protected]