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Hamilton steelworkers closely watching Sault strike vote

Members of USW Local 2251 will be filing into the Marconi hall between 5 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday as their union seeks a strike mandate
20170227 Mike Da Prat KA
Mike Da Prat, seen speaking this morning at the union hall. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

On the eve of United Steelworkers Local 2251 strike vote members of a Hamilton local — who are facing their own battle at home — are in town to show support.

Members of Hamilton’s USW Local 1005 negotiating committee met with Mike Da Prat, president of Local 2251, and Lisa Dale, president of Local 2724, this morning at the union hall.

Local 1005 president Gary Howe said it was important for the members from Hamilton to show support just before tomorrow’s strike mandate vote.

“(Steelworkers) add to the economies of both communities, we play important roles. Looking for wage cutbacks or any kind of concession from workers, both active and retirees, only hurts the economy further,” said Howe.

Local 1005, which represent about 520 active workers at US Steel Canada in Hamilton, is facing its own contract being up for renegotiation March 31, while the company has been in CCAA protection for the last 30 months.

In that time, Local 1005 retirees have watched as many of their benefits disappeared during the CCAA process because the company claimed their debtor in possession (DIP) financing was in jeopardy .

“That’s one way they use CCAA against all workers, taking away what the workers have earned as deferred wages,” said Howe.

Benefits are not a gift, he said, but earned by workers and were promised to support them for the rest of their lives.

“They unilaterally did that, without anyone saying that was okay,” said Howe.

Local 1005 is keeping a close eye on the strike vote in the Sault, but Howe said no decision has been made to do the same in Hamilton.

“There has been no suggestion if things aren’t done by March 31 that there will be a strike or a lockout in our situation, because we just got a notice to bargain,” said Howe.

Strike votes are not unusual in collective bargaining situations and don't necessarily mean that a strike must occur.

Before employees can strike, Ontario's Labour Relations Act requires that a strike vote be taken by secret ballot after the collective agreement expires.

More than 50 per cent must vote in favour of a strike.

 A strike may consist of:

  • a cessation of work
  • a refusal to work or to continue to work by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding
  • a slowdown or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output

All members of Local 2251 have the right to participate in the strike vote and must have ample opportunity to cast a ballot at a reasonably convenient time and place.

Da Prat said if a strike does eventually happen it would be the first for 2251 since 1990.

“We are fighting for our contract, for the benefits we have in our collective agreement that they are trying to take away. That’s what we are negotiating,” said Da Prat.

The local is battling on two fronts, said Da Prat — the contract negotiations with the current owner Essar Steel Algoma and the eventual negotiations with the successful bidder.

“Under CCAA, a bidder has to satisfy the stakeholders and must get a collective agreement with the unions. The problem is, like (Local 1005) it’s been 30 months,” said Da Prat.

“(Essar Steel Algoma) could have cooperated with us and we could have come up with a joint solution. The problem is, they wanted to pick the bidder of their choice and then they wanted to force us to accept what they wanted us to accept,” he added.