When Wabush Mines announced early in 2014 that they were idling the mine many employees could see the writing on the wall. Later that fall, the company (Cliffs) announced they were closing permanently.
People in Labrador West were shocked by the news, and many hoped the mine would be sold and reopened in a short time. Now, Wabush Mines is in the process of reopening by new owners Tacora, and people are hoping jobs will soon be available.
What has transpired in the past four years has for many former workers been described as, “a roller coaster ride of uncertainty and stress that continued on since the mine closed.”
For several years pensions were reduced and medical benefits were cut off. Now after a long series of court proceedings and legal proceedings pensioners are poised to get a little good news.
On May 15, pensioners and those receiving pension benefits, such as spouses, were summoned to a meeting. Just over 150 showed up. Since many people have since left the area and others were unable to attend the meeting, it was televised by local cable company CRRS, and streamed via You Tube.
For two hours presentations were made by representatives of Morneau Shepell, the government appointed plan administrators of the Wabush Mines Pension, representatives of Koskie Minsky , the law firm for salaried Pensioners , USW lawyer Daniel Boudreault.
The Morneau Shepell team explained what had transpired with the pension as the proceedings went through the various stages of the court proceedings under the company’s creditor’s arrangements act. Then pensioners learned that their underfunded pension, which caused the pension reductions, were about to get an infusion of cash. The exact amount would be revealed just after the Aurora’s deadline.
Law firm representatives of Koskie Minsky outlined the procedures over the several years, and explained how a recent Provincial interpretation of a Court Decision eventually expedited matters, and a mediation was held within the last two weeks. Basically, funds will be going into the underfunded pension fund, which will mean pensions will go up again.
Tony Lawrence , former Wabush Mines worker, said, “this has been a complicated set of events but the explanations made things more understandable. I’m leaving this meeting a lot more optimistic than I have been in the past several years.”
Andrew Hatnay, with Koskie Minsky, explained some of the changes pensioners could expect. Pensioners can expect an increase in their pension. Medical benefits will not be restored but there will be some compensation to lost medical and life assurance benefits during the time benefits were cut.
Jane Walsh, whose husband worked at the mine, said, “the past several years have been difficult for most pensioners. Imagine getting your pension cut and then getting your medical benefits cut off, our meds were about $400 a month, others had to pay more for meds, and it was stressful for many.”
During the meeting there were opportunities for the audience to ask questions. Many dealt with the pension and fears that it could be reduced, but they were assured that’s not the case. As well many questions were raised about survivor benefits. In addition to the questions from the floor, representatives making the presentations made themselves available to speak privately with people.
In addition to the meetings with pensioners, another meeting was held with members with vested pensions. Those persons who have invested in the pension but at this time were not eligible to draw from the fund were explained what their options were at this time.
As the meeting concluded, many of the people acknowledged the hard work of the Local Wabush Mines Pension Committee and came to pass their regards to co-chairpeople Rita Pynn and Ron Barron. Both were quick to point out others on the committee included Charley Perry, Roy Lacey, Neil Johnson, Jim Skinner, Mike Clark and Euclid Hache.
“It’s been a long battle but seeing the relief on the faces of many of the people here it was worth it,” agreed Pynn and Barron.
Barron, who is also the mayor of Wabush, added, “we have seen the hardship and the suffering that this mine closure has had on the people who worked there. People who were committed to the company and made it successful, in return they were promised a good pension and medical benefits by the company, to enjoy a comfortable retirement. No company should be allowed to hide behind the courts, to deny workers what they have earned and it’s time for governments to enact legislation that assures what is due to the workers. Hopefully the recent developments with the Wabush Mines workers will start the ball rolling.”
The exact amount of money going to the pension plan will be released after the deadline for the next Aurora but up to date information will be posted online.