September 28, 2017

The Assault on Stelco Workers' Rights

Taking Environmental Remediation
Off the Balance Sheet


The Assault on Stelco Workers' Rights
Taking Environmental Remediation Off the Balance Sheet  - K.C. Adams

Public Sector Workers Protest Nova Scotia Bill 148
Workers Demand the Right to Determine Their Living and Working Conditions
We Must Be the Decision-Makers! - Kevin Corkill, Nova Scotia Public Service Worker

Parliamentary Hearings on Changes to Transportation Act
The Real Aim of Bill C-49 - Pierre Chénier

The Assault on Stelco Workers' Rights

Taking Environmental Remediation
Off the Balance Sheet 

The Bedrock deal seizing control of Stelco from U.S. Steel and exiting from bankruptcy protection of the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) officially took environmental remediation of Stelco's historical industrial lands off the balance sheet. In truth however environmental remediation has never been on Stelco's balance or on the balance sheet of any big corporation for that matter. Otherwise, the problems of industrial pollution of the Stelco lands and Randle reef in Hamilton Bay or the broader challenges of climate change would already have been addressed. Taking something off the balance sheet means the issue, such as defined-benefit pensions or environmental remediation, no longer has a claim on the value workers produce at the particular company.

Environmental remediation should be on the balance sheets of all companies as a matter of course similar to constant maintenance of industrial machinery, buildings and transportation routes. This will not happen at Stelco or anywhere without a huge fight led by the working class because such a pro-social humanized direction comes into direct conflict with the aim of the imperialist economy for maximum private money profit.

Bedrock, Essar Steel Algoma, and retail outlets such as Sears and Toys 'R' Us will not agree to have anything on their balance sheets that interferes with their aim of maximum money profit, such as defined-benefit pensions, other post-employment benefits (OPEBs) or constant environmental remediation. Anything on a balance sheet that interferes with or reduces money profit comes into direct conflict with the aim of those who own and control the enterprise. To serve their narrow aim, the imperialists use the CCAA and Chapter 11 in the U.S. as weapons of legalized theft of what belongs to workers by right and to avoid taking up social responsibility for the social and natural environment.

The Bedrock CCAA deal contains a spectacle of not only taking environmental remediation off the balance sheet officially, so as to avoid any possible future lawsuits, but also a charade to cover the theft of what belongs to Stelco pensioners by right through reneging on longstanding promises regarding the continued funding of defined-benefit pensions and OPEBs. The deal concocts a "Land Vehicle to hold USSC's (Stelco's) real property and certain assets that will not be leased by USSC (Bedrock aka Stelco) that are not used in steelmaking."[1] The Land Vehicle is charged with cleaning up the Stelco lands not used in steelmaking and then selling the lands. The sale of the lands is then supposed to finance the existing pension benefits and OPEBs, which are likewise no longer on the balance sheet and financed from company earnings. All new employees are completely denied defined-benefit pensions and OPEBs.

The Court also created an "Interim Land Restructuring Officer (LRO) to provide interim temporary governance and administration of the special purpose entity (the 'Land Vehicle')," who is none other than the CCAA Monitor Ernst & Young. The U.S. accounting parasite E&Y has already seized tens of millions of dollars in CCAA fees from Stelco since 2014 and undoubtedly will claim millions more as the LRO and in other ways.

The CCAA settlement handing Stelco to the U.S. investment company Bedrock declared the new owner and all previous owners not liable for the environmental remediation of the steel company's historical land, the defined-benefit pensions or the OPEBs. The LRO has presented a budget for the Land Vehicle, which already includes a draw of $1.5 million from a line of credit from the Ontario provincial government. This loan of course will have to be repaid with the sale of the remediated lands. How much will be left for pensions and OPEBs is speculation but the LRO has already been busy spending the provincial loan.[2] 

The Land Vehicle Budget shows Total Disbursements for the Stelco Legacy Lands "Land Vehicle" at $1,674,938 and Net Outflow at $1,351,890. The disbursements include Professional and Consulting Fees, mostly going to E&Y, and one to dispose of piles of Red Oxide listed at $52,577. The note for this reads, "7. As discussed in note 3, (There are red oxide piles on the non-leased Land Vehicle lands that need to be removed.) These are the monthly expenses to dispose of the red oxide piles.... These piles are part of the secondary materials on the legacy lands that need to be addressed."

The secondary materials and any unused structures have to be removed before dealing with the polluted soil. The Land Vehicle also has to pay property taxes until the lands are sold. For 2017, the Land Vehicle will pay $188,801 and apparently is on the hook to pay back Stelco $1.5 million in municipal taxes already paid.[3]

These self-serving manoeuvres of the financial oligarchy do not solve any fundamental problems in the economy. They appear increasingly as desperate attempts to defend class privilege and the outmoded economic aim of fighting for maximum private money profit. The modern economy on which the people and society depend for their survival needs cooperation amongst all its sectors in conformity with its socialized nature not the incessant infighting of the competing empire-builders and theft of what belongs to workers by right.

The increasing use of the CCAA is proof that the modern socialized economy cannot solve its problems with the old direction and aim. A new pro-social direction and aim for the economy are required to humanize the social and natural environment and guarantee the well-being of the people and general interests of society.



For the complete Motion Record of the Monitor -- Returnable Sept 25, 2017 click here.

2. For Appendix C of the September 25 Stelco CCAA motion record "Amended Land Vehicle Budget" click here.

3. See item 5 in Appendix C of the September 25 Stelco CCAA motion record.

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Public Sector Workers Protest Nova Scotia Bill 148

Workers Demand the Right to Determine
Their Living and Working Conditions

On September 21, public sector workers from across Nova Scotia gathered in Halifax at the opening of the Fall Session of the Legislature to voice their opposition to Bill 148, the Public Services Sustainability (2015) Act. Enacted by the McNeil Liberals on August 22, it imposes wage restrictions and removes longstanding articles from existing collective agreements.

Representatives from unions representing over 75,000 Nova Scotia public sector workers gathered at the Legislature shouting, "McNeil has got to go!" and "Whose House? Our House!" and enthusiastically welcomed more and more workers as buses arrived from around the province.

Workers from the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union as well as students were joined by presidents from three national unions, representing hundreds of thousands of workers across Canada, who addressed the roaring crowd.

Larry Brown, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees highlighted the workers' conviction and ongoing defence of their rights and called on Premier McNeil to "Stop this ill-informed fight on workers' rights because we will prevail!" He denounced the government's use of police powers to impose wage restrictions and other measures, saying, "The term for someone who negates people's rights is a dictator."

Mark Hancock, National President of CUPE, expressed the spirit of workers across Canada to fight for their rights, warning governments and employers, "Don't screw around with us, we will take you on. In the courts, at the bargaining table and in the streets!" He also stressed the need for the working class across Canada to stand together to defend rights, saying "You take on one of us, you take on all of us."

Jerry Dias, National President of Unifor, denounced Premier McNeil's attacks on public sector workers and the rights of Nova Scotians saying, "Who goes after teachers and nurses? Stephen McNeil does!" to which the crowed shouted "Shame!"

Alex Furlong, Director of Atlantic Region of the CLC said, "This is a message to Premier McNeil, we will be here long after you are gone... let this be a message to the Premier, this is our House!"

The highlight of the action was the throng of workers encircling the Legislature as it reopened, who carried the day with their invigorating and militant spirit. Their chants of "Whose House? Our House!" drowned out the bagpipes welcoming the Lieutenant Governor and MLAs. It was a bold affirmation of their right to decide and for wages and working conditions commensurate with the work they do, and firmly conveyed their opposition to the McNeil government's attempt to dictate the working and living conditions of Nova Scotia public sector workers.

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We Must Be the Decision-Makers!

Halifax, September 21, 2017.

On August 22, Liberal Premier of Nova Scotia Stephen McNeil enacted Bill 148, the Public Services Sustainability (2015) Act. Much like Bill 75, the Teachers' Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvements (2017) Act imposed on Nova Scotia teachers in February, this is the McNeil government using police powers masquerading as legislation.

McNeil, attempting to rationalize the Liberal government's decision declared, "I've made it very clear that an unelected, unaccountable arbitrator will not determine the taxpayers' ability to pay." It is within this narrative that the McNeil government wishes to impose its thinking and dictate on the people of Nova Scotia and public sector workers using the anti-social fraud of "taxpayers' ability to pay."

It is a tired and misguided argument that attempts to split the people of Nova Scotia into "taxpayers" versus those who work to provide public services for the people of Nova Scotia. It is to fool the gullible, divide the people and hide the fact that this is not a solution to any problem.

In today's neo-liberal world dominated by the anti-social fraud of individual taxation and user fees, the rendering of people as "taxpayers" is a ploy to deny that our province is made up of the people that live in, contribute to and depend on it for their well-being.

The level of services, provided by those in all public sector jobs, is precisely what guarantees the stability, peace of mind and necessities for the people of Nova Scotia.

The social wealth produced in the economy by workers in the public sector finds its way into many different forms. There are the years of education from primary to grade 12 that produce capable and knowledgeable workers. There are the years of health care that help build the capacity to work of every Nova Scotian, who inevitably use this social program starting from birth. There are countless services that allow safe, standardized and professional work to be carried out everyday in Nova Scotia to which every teacher, health care professional and other public sector worker has contributed.

Even though public sector workers are the largest workforce in Nova Scotia, produce most of the social wealth claimed by the province and are essential to the socialized economy, the McNeil government continues to disrespect us as a matter of course.

What is the role and responsibility of government? What problem is McNeil sorting out? The common anti-social refrain "living within our means" again only poses the question in such a way that highlights that the actual producers of wealth in Nova Scotia do not control the social wealth nor its production.

A true modern democracy acts to uphold the aim of building our province and the defence of the rights of workers and their communities, including the decisive control of the direction of public services and what working conditions are necessary to work in dignity and security including in retirement.

The premise that public sector workers or social programs are a "cost" is an attempt by those in power to put arrangements in place to remove those that produce all the material and social infrastructure from decision-making and to keep the needs of the people from being put in first place.

Halifax, September 21, 2017.

Furthermore, the "taxpayers" McNeil speaks of is a category that serves to deny that the people of Nova Scotia are citizens and residents with rights. It also presents them as a faceless mass of powerless consumers who are victims of public sector workers' fight to defend our rights.

What other role should a government play other than to try to meet the needs of its people and put them in first place? Is McNeil trying to say that for Nova Scotia to live "within its means" means that over 37,000 children should live in poverty? A 8.9 per cent unemployment rate? A waiting list of 4,500 households for affordable housing; 33,000 people who need a family physician? These are but a few significant problems that need sorting out.

Invoking the anti-social idea of "taxpayers' ability to pay" serves to cause maximum confusion as to the role of government -- it is used to further attack the rights of workers and the services that Nova Scotians rely on. The new arrangements McNeil is fighting for call for the elimination of our right to negotiate our collective working conditions, which are the very conditions required to deliver public services. This all serves to put downward pressure on the standard of living and more specifically, will set the stage to legalize the power to decree our working and living conditions and use police powers in the form of legislation to negate our resistance.

All Out to Oppose the McNeil Governments Bill 148!
Workers Have a Right to Decide Their Working and Living Conditions!
Uphold Our Right to Be the Decision-Makers!

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Parliamentary Hearings on Changes to Transportation Act

The Real Aim of Bill C-49

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has been conducting hearings on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. The bill passed second reading in June and was referred to the Standing Committee for hearings prior to the reconvening of Parliament on September 18. Hearings were held from September 11-14. Presentations were made by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, other Trudeau government officials, representatives of rail, airline and maritime companies, companies shipping goods (particularly through railways), unions, state agencies such as the Transportation Safety Board and various individuals. Presenters also answered questions from MPs who are members of the Committee.

C-49 is a major bill amending a number of transportation Acts. Among the main features of the bill are changes to the international ownership restrictions for Canadian air carriers allowing increased foreign ownership of Canadian airlines, the mandatory installation of voice and video recorders in locomotives under the hoax of improving rail safety, and the creation of a new mechanism called Long-Haul Interswitching for shippers who have access to only one railway for shipping their goods.[1]

The hearings were organized under the theme of guaranteeing a "strong transportation system," as fundamental to Canada's "overall economic performance and competitiveness." This was also the theme of the Harper government and the Emerson Report it commissioned in 2014, which was tabled by Minister Garneau in February 2016.

The thesis of the Emerson Report is that deregulation, privatization and integration of transportation systems for U.S.-led empire-building is the only way for Canada to thrive as a country. The Liberals agree and are adding the fig-leaf of "safeguards," "transparency," and "balance" between empire-building and "public interest" to muddle the issue and liquidate the workers' fight for their rights and transportation systems that are part of a pro-social nation-building project that guarantees the well-being and the rights of all.

On the issue of changes to the foreign ownership restrictions for Canadian air carriers, Bill C-49 increases the allowable percentage of foreign ownership from 29 to 49 per cent. This provision in the bill also states that a single investor can hold up to 25 per cent of the voting interests of a Canadian carrier, and an international carrier can own up to 25 per cent of a Canadian carrier. The limit of 25 per cent is presented as a safeguard. This denies the truth that the financial oligarchy is already in control of what are called Canadian carriers and further that monopolies can exercise controlling interests with percentages of 25 per cent and less. Garneau also promotes increased foreign ownership saying it frees up "capital investment" for use in the improvement of services. He does not say what happens to the social wealth that the capital investment supposedly frees up.

Long-Haul Interswitching

A significant number of presentations at the hearings were about the new mechanism of Long-Haul Interswitching (LHI). Minister Garneau presented LHI as a way for shippers in remote regions to have more choices of carriers to move their goods and therefore potentially reduce their costs.

Interswitching refers to shippers of products like lumber, iron ore, grain or consumer goods in Canada's most remote regions often served by only a single rail line leaving shippers with few transportation options. With interswitching, the railway company picks up the cars from a customer and hands them off to another carrier that performs the line haul. The line haul includes the majority of the linear distance of the overall railway movement.

Under the current legislation, interswitching is available to shippers located 160 km from a recognized interchange point. Bill C-49 extends this distance up to 1,200 kilometres. This deregulation measure favours the railway monopolies now operating mostly in the U.S., as it will increase their access to the Canadian railway network.

According to many interveners, LHI was not part of the consultations Minister Garneau claims were held with stakeholders, and was added to Bill C-49 at the last minute. It seems that the Trudeau government came up with LHI in the context of talks with the U.S. on NAFTA renegotiations, to increase access to the Canadian railway network to railway monopolies operating in the U.S.

CP Rail representatives argued strenuously against LHI during the hearings and used the opportunity to threaten to abandon their short lines in remote regions and to leave small shippers without rail transportation options. They said that the measure would cause them to lose market share. They would therefore be unable to undertake the "capital investment" needed to keep their branch lines in remote regions alive, as these are costly for CP to maintain and upgrade while carrying low volumes of goods.

Locomotive Voice and Video Recorders

Many presentations and questions dealt with the section on locomotive voice and video recorders (LVVRs). The bill makes it mandatory for rail companies to install LVVRs and allows the rail companies to have access to the recordings. This was introduced with full knowledge that railway workers firmly oppose this change as an attack on their privacy and dignity.

To enforce the introduction of LVVRs, the bill amends the Railway Safety Act and the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act. This measure was not part of the so-called consultations prior to the tabling of Bill C-49 and comes as a surprise attack. The only mention during talks was a suggestion that the LVVRs could be part of amendments to the two safety Acts to come much later.

At the hearings, the irony could not be missed: the Transport Minister and his crew claimed that this measure is strictly designed to improve rail safety and that everything is being done to protect workers' privacy, while representatives of the Railway Association of Canada and CP Rail stated vehemently that this measure is meant to provide them with video and audio recordings showing inappropriate "behaviour" which they say is the main cause of rail accidents.

The anti-social thesis the rail monopolies advocate, with none of the MPs correcting them, is that the railways are safe as far as equipment and tracks are concerned and what remains to be dealt with are the "human factors" that are the leading cause of rail incidents. The representative of the Railway Association of Canada went so far as to say that as long as all the processes in the railways are not "fully automated" there are going to be accidents because of human factors.

According to the rail monopolies, no human factor exists in equipment and tracks; there is not even a human aim behind operating the rail companies. The human factor in the operation of the railways only exists for them in the form of the workers' behaviour, which must be criminalized. The rail oligarchs advocate both the elimination of most of the work force and the criminalization of those who remain. These measures are already taking place and put communities and the remaining workers at risk.

Minister Garneau kept repeating the fantasy that workers' privacy is going to be protected. He did not even acknowledge that the bill itself explicitly cancels the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act as far as its application to railway workers is concerned.

The bill also permits a railway to use the information collected by recording equipment "to address a prescribed threat to the safety of railway operations." This is meant to justify taking exceptional measures against workers based on what is found in the recordings. No regulation has yet been passed spelling out what constitutes such a safety threat. Neither does the bill deal with the very real concerns on the right of privacy. The bill makes it clear that privacy legislation does not apply to workers.

Implementation will be done through regulations, said Garneau, the same way the Harper government carried out Employment Insurance reform. Garneau himself said that regulations are much more convenient than a bill because they can be changed without convening Parliament and are beyond most public scrutiny.

As far as railway workers are concerned, the bill is no "safeguard" for anything but rather the granting of further police powers to the rail monopolies to act against the workers with the government providing a legal framework.

Workers will have none of these attacks of the Liberal government. They are bravely facing the challenge of stepping up their fights for their rights and for transportation systems that do not serve empire-building for the global private interests but rather pro-social nation-building that favours the people.


 1. For more information on the content of Bill C-49, see TML Weekly, June 3, 2017. 

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