Prime minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne are being urged by the United Steelworkers Union (USW) to provide meaningful help to thousands of vulnerable pensioners whose critical health-care benefits were taken away 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," said USW national director Ken Neumann in an open letter to the prime minister.
A similar letter was sent to Wynne.
On Oct. 10, while in the midst of court-supervised insolvency proceedings, U.S. Steel Canada eliminated 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," said the letters.
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 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," said the union.
With U.S. Steel announcing its plan to "disengage" and walk away from its Canadian operations, the union is calling 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.
The Canadian steel sector employs more than 20,000 workers and indirectly supports more than 100,000 jobs across the country.
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 noted in his letter to Trudeau.
"The government of Canada bears some real responsibility for the plight of retirees and current employees," he said.