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Three fatalities at National Steel Car in Hamilton – Immediate Action Required

June 10, 2022

June 7, 2022

The Honourable Monte McNaughton,
Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
14th Floor, 400 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M7A 1T7

Via email:

RE:     Three fatalities at National Steel Car in Hamilton – Immediate Action Required

Dear Hon. Minister McNaughton, 

I am writing you with an issue that is of grave and immediate concern: for the third time in less than two years, a worker has been killed at National Steel Car in Hamilton, as of June 6.

The other two fatalities were on April 23, 2021, and Sept. 2, 2020.

Minister McNaughton, USW members do not go to work to die – not at National Steel Car or anywhere. We are asking you and the Ministry of Labour to treat this situation with the seriousness it requires.

The United Steelworkers union (USW) represents workers who manufacture rolling rail stock from raw product to finish. This includes heavy manufacturing of rail cars. There are approximately 1,400 Steelworkers working in the industrial plant, with approximately 600 other employees. 

The victims of all three tragedies have been USW members. In addition, there have been too many similarities concerning these incidents, including the apparent mechanical failure of lifting and hoisting equipment.

The USW, at the local, district and national levels, has devoted a great deal of effort over the last two years to targeting this employer to address the fatalities and ongoing health and safety concerns. We have worked jointly through all levels of the union to analyze and formulate solutions to what has obviously been a systemic culture of unsafe work entrenched in the operations of National Steel Car.

The union has provided additional specialized training for the USW members of the Joint Health and Safety Committee to better prepare them to most effectively monitor the workplace and provide the safest and healthiest workplace possible for all workers.

The union has been working hard to try to keep workers safe on the job, but there is a limit to our capacity, especially when National Steel Car seems determined to do the opposite.

There was also extensive contact with the Ministry of Labour and its inspectors and senior management. Concerns were communicated regarding the employer’s obvious lack of commitment to the workings of the joint committee. There were also concerns with the lack of action taken by the ministry to do more extensive inspections of all equipment similar to the equipment involved in the fatalities, particularly the lifting and hoisting devices.

Further to Ministry involvement, after a September 2, 2020 worker fatality on a crane at the workplace, the Ministry of Labour made several orders relating to crane safety, including some related to the proper fittings to be affixed to crane hooks to secure loads. The employer appealed five of these orders relating to the company being required to attach fittings to five crane hooks to ensure safety. The Company withdrew these appeals in May, 2022 after it attached latches to the five cranes subject to the orders under appeal.  

What should be clear by these examples (and there are many more), is that we are seeing an employer that has repeatedly expressed little interest in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace and is potentially criminally negligent. 

What I am asking is that the ministry take a fresh look at this employer to put an end to this unnecessary carnage of workers at this site. The ministry must acknowledge that there is a culture at this worksite that puts production and profits far above the basic rights of workers to go to work without getting killed or injured. USW members are paying dearly for the potentially criminal negligence of management at National Steel Car and for the inaction of the Ministry of Labour.

The union is both frustrated with trying to change the attitude and performance of this employer and that the ministry has been ineffective in creating change. We rely on your ministry to intervene when we find ourselves out of options. The ministry and its inspectors have the ultimate power in sanctioning an employer who appears to have a lethal ill-regard for the well-being of its employees. 

Three of our members have lost their lives. Three families and all of those around them have been needlessly devastated. Co-workers have been traumatized and go to work wondering if they too may be next. 

This situation requires immediate attention.

I am requesting a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss what steps can be taken right away to avert any further tragedies at this workplace. We are gravely concerned and hope that this request will be met with equal concern on your part.

Please note that if we do not hear from you within the next few days, our office will follow up to schedule a meeting.

Yours truly,

Myles Sullivan
District 6 (Ontario and Atlantic) Director
United Steelworkers union (USW)

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