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An uncertain future

At the end of 2015, a secret agreement between U.S. Steel and the federal government, made to settle a lawsuit between the parties, expires. The deal, announced by federal officials, required the company to make $3 million in grants to community groups, operating Lake Erie and the Hamilton Burlington Street plant until the end of 2015 and injecting at least $50 million in capital into maintain the Canadian facilities.

But in the ensuing years those promises of investments have evaporated like the smoke from a steel plant. There has been no capital investment in the Hamilton plant since 2007. The blast furnace has been closed, and U.S. Steel, under a new corporate directive, is cutting and slashing at will. The coke ovens, the galvanizing line and the Z line coating continue to operate, but for how long?

Hamilton politicians and staff, along with worried steelworkers, believe that once that secret deal ends, U.S. Steel will abandon its Canadian operations altogether.

If U.S. Steel leaves the city, the effect will be significant. A new economic impact study conducted by city staff revealed the financial losses could be up to $22 million a year in tax losses, including $15 million in residential tax revenues from over 4,450 pensioners.

While over the last decade the city has attempted to mitigate the declining tax revenues from U.S. Steel, the 5,204 U.S. Steel pensioners are facing unanswered questions about their lives. The city report reveals they are looking at a future of lower economic status, the loss of their homes and physical and mental health issues.

If the impact of losing an iconic business from the city wasn’t hard enough, U.S. Steel and the federal government refuse to talk to anybody about the company’s future. U.S. Steel has been arrogantly defiant. Company officials have ignored requests to appear before politicians. The company’s silence has been deafening, but not totally unexpected from a traditionally unresponsive corporate entity.

What’s infuriating is the federal government and local Conservative representatives who have hidden from public view on the issue.

MPs David Sweet and Dean Allison have repeatedly ignored calls to address the problem. The federal government has consistently refused to talk to city officials and politicians about the future, content to bury their heads in the sand, hoping the entire scenario goes away.

But as time marches on, the impending deadline isn’t going away. Instead, it continues to be heightened, leaving workers, and the municipality facing lingering questions about their futures.

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