NEWS
11/22/2016 18:30 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 00:12 EST

Lake Erie steelworkers 'going forward' with Bedrock bid to buy U.S. Steel Canada

The union local representing steelworkers at the Lake Erie U.S. Steel Canada plant signed a "letter of support" in favour of the Bedrock Industries bid to buy the company, which has been under court-supervised creditor protection since October 2014.

Bill Ferguson, president of Local 8782 in Lake Erie, announced on Facebook and YouTube, as he often does, that the letter had been signed on Tuesday.

But he acknowledged there are still issues that have to be sorted out.

The "issues" left to sort out are hefty: pensions and the "OPEBS" – otherwise known as the medical and other benefits promised to retirees that have been on pause since October 2015.

The announcement from that local without one from the Hamilton local serves as a reminder that though the unionized steelworkers and retirees from the former Stelco's two locations often line up together in solidarity and support, they operate as distinct negotiators.

'What it does mean is that we will be going forward'

Bedrock is a private equity investment firm that buys distressed companies and restructures them. The company and the province announced a memorandum of understanding back in September, and the U.S. Steel parent corporation signed one earlier this month.

Ferguson noted that the letter of support isn't as fulsome as a "memorandum" like the ones that Bedrock struck with the province and with the Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel former parent company.

"What it does mean is that we will be going forward to have discussions with both provincial and federal governments on their handling of our outstanding issues," Ferguson said.

Hamilton local: The issues left 'are huge issues'

Gary Howe, president of Local 1005 representing the U.S. Steel Canada workers and pensioners in Hamilton, said his local is also meeting with Bedrock but "the issues that are left are huge issues."

He said Bedrock has been resistant to taking on the pension liability. That would affect Hamilton more than Lake Erie, as there are many times more retirees in Hamilton. 

And the distribution of benefits could look different between the two locals, too, he said, even though "we were all subjected to the same amount of carcinogens."

But he said there's still a feeling of solidarity between the two locals. 

"I've got to give Bill (Ferguson) credit – we're working together," Howe said.

Howe said Local 1005 has a rally planned for Friday to reiterate their message to the province: "Keep Stelco producing, and hands off our pensions."

'Hang in there. We'll get there'

In his video message, Ferguson reminded members that the talks are happening on many levels at once, and "what's true today may not be true tomorrow".

"So we will be going forward, we will be having these discussions, and at the end of the day, hopefully we come out with a resolution that's good for everyone, for all of us," he said.

He signed off: "Hang in there. We'll get there."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett