Trent Ernst, Editor
Nearly three years after Walter Energy closed its Wolverine Mine, putting hundreds of Employees out of work, a portion of the monies owed are finally being disbursed.
In April of 2014, the United Steelworkers (USW) filed a complaint on behalf of the Walter Employees to the Labour Relations Board claiming that the Employer, Walter Energy, failed to give the United Steelworkers proper notice of the closure.
The argued that Section 54 of the Labour Relations Code states the Employer must give sixty (60) days notice if it intends to introduce a measure, policy practice or change that effects the terms, condition or security of employment of a significant number of employees to whom a Collective Agreement applies. “As you well know, they did not,” says Dan Wills, representative for the USW. “We have been successful and the Labour Board has ruled that Walter Energy was in violation of Section 54. But, Walter Energy then appealed the matter to the courts, which in turn delays any payment.”
In 2015, the union approached the Labour Board and asked them to have Walter Energy put $1.9 million dollars in trust, in the event the Company went into Bankruptcy Protection, which they did on December 7 of that year. The Board ordered Walter to put $770,000 in trust., which is being held by the union’s law firm in a trust account.
Last year, the USW asked the Court for permission to pay out the $770,000, but the request was denied.
On March 13, they made the request again, and the request was granted.
“We know this will not be a lot of money but we believe it is very important to get this pro-rated amount to everyone that has money owed to them as soon as possible,” says Wills.
Wills says the Labour Relations Board ordered Walter Energy to pay damages to employees who were laid off. “Those damages consisted of 60 days’ wages, less any money people earned in the two months immediately after the layoff.”
Almost all Wolverine employees are owed money for Collective Agreement severance pay, says Wills. As well, they are still owed Employment Standards termination pay for termination when recall rights expired around April 2016, and many are also owed money from the April 2014 shutdown.
This is before the Supreme Court Justice, says Wills, and the Union is awaiting her ruling.
Last year, assets of Walter Energy Canada were sold to Conuma Coal Resources Ltd., and the sale of the mine has completed. Indeed, the mine is now under operation under the new owner.
However, says Wills, the proceeds of the sale cannot be distributed to creditors including employees. “The Court needs to make a ruling on the claim of a competing creditor,” he says. “ Lawyers for the United Steelworkers (USW) were in Court in January representing Wolverine employees. Workers will get more money after the competing claims are decided, but we will not know how much until the other claims are resolved.”
Not all employees received damages under Section 54, says Wills, and very few will receive the exact same amount, depending on when they were laid off, what their wage rate was, and what other earnings they had. However, says Wills, “all employees are getting the same percentage of their total damages.”
“We now need to wait until the court rules on the remaining issues for payment of any more money. I know it has been a long struggle as the mine closed just about three years ago. But, we continue to be present and represent the workers’ best interest at all hearings that are held. Hopefully, we will hear soon from the court on the matter that was held in January. Once we have the court ruling we will let everyone know.”