Steelworkers Betrayed by Harper Government…..Again

The following column by Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director for Canada, appeared in the December 17 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

U.S. Steel workers, pensioners and many others in Hamilton are rightfully feeling betrayed, once again, by the federal Conservative government.

The Conservatives’ decision to abandon the court case against U.S. Steel for violating federal law is scandalous, even by the Harper government’s dreadful standards. It represents an historic lost opportunity, the implications of which extend beyond Hamilton to working families and communities across the country.

Over the years thousands of Canadian families and their communities have been devastated by predatory foreign takeovers that have resulted in massive job losses and plant shutdowns. Affected communities were ignored by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, which simply rubber-stamped foreign takeovers and abided the disastrous consequences.

However, with the U.S. Steel case, it appeared the federal government was finally prepared to finally establish a positive precedent. For the first time, the government turned to the courts to enforce the Investment Canada Act against a foreign corporation accused of breaking legal commitments to provide a “net benefit” to our country.

Preliminary court rulings repeatedly confirmed the government had a legitimate case against U.S. Steel for breaking employment and production commitments in Hamilton and Nanticoke. U.S. Steel lost every one of the desperate preliminary motions it brought before the courts over the last 2½ years, failing each time to derail the process.

After U.S. Steel’s most-recent motion was flatly rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada, there was considerable hope the case would go to trial in the new year. Workers, families and the communities might finally get their due.

The very real issue of damages to workers and pensioners prompted the Federal Court to grant intervenor status to the United Steelworkers in the case against U.S. Steel. The union should be allowed to claim compensation for workers and pensioners “adversely affected” by U.S. Steel’s actions, the court ruled.

“[I]t cannot be overstated that the most immediate and direct impact of the production and employment levels not being met … has been on the employees and retirees … whose working lives, retirement and income security have been seriously and adversely affected,” the Federal Court judge stated.

The United Steelworkers calculated that damages to our members exceeded $40 million. And that represents a fraction of the total economic harm from U.S. Steel’s massive job and production cuts.

It is therefore a reprehensible betrayal to abandon the case against U.S. Steel. The Conservatives’ refusal to enforce the Investment Canada Act means Canadians have lost the only avenue of protection from predatory foreign takeovers.

Instead, the Conservatives struck a secret, back-room deal with U.S. Steel that deprives workers, pensioners and other parties their day in court and their right to claim damages.

Almost no details of the government’s secret deal are being publicly released- another travesty of accountability and transparency perpetrated by the Harper Conservatives. Nevertheless, it is clear that the so-called settlement pales in comparison to the damages caused by U.S. Steel’s broken commitments.

U.S. Steel has been let off the hook in return for a murky promise to maintain an undefined level of operations in Canada for four years. U.S. Steel’s latest promises to Canada pale in comparison to its worldwide capital expenditures of $626 million and quarterly dividends of $22 million in the first nine months of 2011 alone.

Even with the absence of detail, analysts already have dismissed U.S. Steel’s promises as inadequate and concluded the secret deal does little for the future of Hamilton Works.

After an excruciating 2½ years of court proceedings, Canadian families and communities were on the verge of discovering if, and how, the Investment Canada Act could address for the economic damage caused by broken foreign investment commitments.

By dropping the U.S. Steel case, the Harper Conservatives – now with a majority government – have sent a clear message. They have abandoned any pretense of defending the rights of Canadians over the interests of multinational corporations. They are willingly complicity with a foreign corporation flouting its commitments to Canada.

U.S. Steel will never be required to fulfill the promises it made to Canadians in return for being allowed to take over Stelco. Nor will it have to make full redress for breaking those commitments.

Workers and families elsewhere in Canada can rightfully be concerned about the impact of foreign takeovers in their communities – at least until the Harper Conservative government can be replaced in 2015.