HAMILTON, Ont. — Picket lines are up outside a U.S. Steel plant in Hamilton after the company locked out hundreds of union members Sunday night over a contract dispute.
The United Steelworkers of Canada says the company is demanding workers put a Nov. 4 offer to a vote.
The offer, which U.S. Steel called “final,” was sent through the mediator appointed by the provincial Ministry of Labour.
The main sticking points have been the company’s demand for concessions on pensions, the cost of living formula and benefits.
It is demanding the existing defined benefit pension plan be closed to new employees and replaced with a defined contribution retirement savings plan. The company also wants an end to indexing payments for current retirees.
Rolf Gerstenberger, the head of Local 1005, was out on the picket line Sunday night, explaining why the union did not put the company’s offer to members.
“Let me ask you this about a vote. It’s supposed to be democratic. How can 900 people vote that 9,000 people should get shafted. How does that work, how is that democracy?” he told the crowd.
The company says the changes are needed for the plant to be competitive.
The lockout comes as the steel industry’s goes through hard times.
U.S. Steel had a net loss of US$51 million in the third quarter and the last time it posted a quarterly profit was at the end of 2008.
U.S. Steel is also in the midst of a court battle with the federal government over promises it made under the Investment Canada Act when it acquired Stelco for more than $1 billion in 2007.
Ottawa says the company broke its production and employment undertakings when it idled most of its Canadian operations — which include the Hamilton plant and another facility in Nanticoke, Ont. — in early 2009.
Workers in Nanticoke resolved an eight-month lockout in April.