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U.S. Steel workers at Lake Erie plant accept five-year contract

The Lake Erie Works near Nanticoke, Ont. Workers for U.S. Steel have ratified a new five-year contract, ending a five-month dispute.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Workers at the U.S. Steel Corp. mill in Nanticoke, Ont., have voted to accept a new five-year contract, ending almost five months of labour unrest.

Fifty-seven per cent of workers at U.S. Steel's Lake Erie plant voted to ratify the contract, with 79 per cent of the almost 1,000 members of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union taking part in the vote, according to the local's website. The Pittsburgh-based steel giant locked out workers from the Lake Erie Works plant in April after the union rejected a contract offer that would have eliminated cost-of-living wage increases, rolled-back pensions and reduced holidays.

U.S. Steel bought the plant as part of its $1.9-billion purchase of Hamilton-based Stelco Inc. in 2007.

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But in the wake of the financial crisis U.S. Steel started to shut down production in Canada.

That caused Ottawa to take U.S. Steel to court, demanding it live up to job and production commitments it made when it purchased Stelco.

In 2009 then federal Industry Minister Tony Clement filed an application asking the Federal Court for fines of $10,000 (Canadian) a day against U.S. Steel, going back several months to when the company first started shutting its Canadian plants.

Ottawa dropped the case two years later after the company agreed to keep producing steel in Canada for at least another four years and upgrade some of its Canadian facilities.

While preparations to restart the plant are likely to start immediately, according to the union's website, getting the blast furnace to restart is expected to take three weeks, while the coke ovens could take six to eight months to get back on line.

According to the company's website, the 640-hectare Lake Erie Works complex employed 1,350 people and has the capacity to manufacture 2.25 million tonnes of slabs and 3 million tonnes of high-quality hot rolled coils a year. Steel that is used for a number of operations from cars to building construction.

"The Committee would like to thank USW Local 8782 members for their large turnout to all the information meetings and the votes," read a post on the union's website. "Thank you for your support through these trying times."

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story failed to note that Tony Clement was the federal Industry Minister in 2009.

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