Steve Arnold | HAMILTON SPECTATOR
Four years after coming to Hamilton with promises of jobs and investment, a German company is moving to turn its promises into reality.
Max Aicher North America, which bought two idled Stelco mills in 2010, is readying to start construction work on the Industrial Drive factory to make it ready for production.
To support that work the company has signed a collective agreement with the Building Union of Canada to represent construction workers on its projects.
“They’ve got a lot of construction coming up at that plant,” said BUC president Craig Bromell. “This company has major plans for the Hamilton area.”
Bromell said the contract with the company will cover construction workers hired for projects at the site and could cover as many as 300 workers.
“They’ll call and say we need guys and we’ll supply the guys,” he said.
Hamilton lawyer Stephen McArthur, who represents the company, said the construction work being planned will rehabilitate the structure after years of idleness.
“We’re getting it ready for eventual production,” he said. “Our plan is still to operate this plant. We’d like to start production sooner rather than later, but there’s no particular timetable.”
Bromell said relations between his union and the company have been cordial from the beginning and he’s looking forward to a long collaboration.
“We’ve been treated very well and we’re comfortable with this company,” he said. “We haven’t experienced any of the kind of treatment we’ve been reading in the paper about them”
In November 2010 the German company purchased two former Stelco mills with promises of creating 100 jobs to start, and a quick ramp up to double that number. The Ontario government supported the project with a $9-million loan.
From the beginning, however, the company was plagued by problems with getting production equipment ready and finding a reliable source of steel to process for its auto and construction customers. In addition, all of the original senior executives left.
Those troubles were compounded with labour unrest — there were repeated layoffs, efforts to sign a collective agreement with Local 1005 of the United Steelworkers foundered, and in June 2013 the entire workforce was locked out to back company demands for contract concessions.
Nothing has been produced in the idled factory since September 2011 and most of its workers were laid off in November of 2012. The entire labour force was then locked out at the end of June 2013 after refusing to accept an offer that would cut wages by up to $10 an hour. That would reduce hourly rates at the plant to between $18.70 and $25.26 an hour compared to the old range of $27 to $35.
The union said those “outrageous wage cuts of up to 30 per cent” would mean the loss of up to $23,000 a year for some members in addition to the elimination of the cost of living allowance, replacing the pension plan with a savings plan as well as reductions in benefits
Since then there has been a virtual stalemate. The company made an offer in January which was overwhelmingly rejected by workers. Tim Blackborow, chairman of the MANA unit of Local 1005, said there has been no contact with the company since then.
“The only meeting we’ve had since then was when we met them in court when they applied for an injunction to limit our picket activities,” Blackborow said.
Blackborow said he knew nothing of construction plans at the plant. He said 20 to 30 people enter the factory every day in private cars, but he has not been told what they’re doing.
“We’ve had no contact with the company at all so I don’t know what they’re doing in there,” he said.
When the last vote was held, Blackborow said, only 28 of the plant’s 100 workers remained eligible to vote — the rest had drifted away from the company.
“Many of our members have had to turn around and find work somewhere else because this has dragged on so long,” he said.