USW says government needs to step in for Wabush pensioners

Published on March 16, 2017

Wabush Mines in June 2007. The mine’s operator, Cliffs Natural Resources, decided to close the mine in February after a potential deal to sell the operation to MFC fell through. But the head of the union local says he’s hopeful an alternative will turn up to closing the mine permanently . — Aurora file photo

The United Steelworkers (USW) issued say Cliffs pensioners need federal and provincial government help. Amid mounting reports of life-threatening health crises and economic hardship for Cliffs Natural Resources pensioners, urgent action is USW said in a press release issues on March 13.

"It has been more than a year since vital health benefits were taken away from these pensioners, widows and laid-off workers,” said Marty Warren, the USW's Director for Atlantic Canada and Ontario. “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,"

Talk is cheap, Warren said, and people need meaningful support, not just sympathy, from their governments.

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 per cent.

According to the press release, 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.

Jim Skinner, a pensioner and former local union president at Wabush Mines, said he has heard too many such stories. He said they depended on governments to put in legislation to protect them but nothing has been done for the last two-plus years for the people of Wabush.

"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.