Community rallies around Local 1005

John Rennison/The…
More than 40 businesses, restaurants and financial institutions are donating services, food and money for a Christmas for the families of locked-out steelworkers.
The party will be Friday at the Hamilton Convention Centre in support of Local 1005 of the United Steelworkers, locked out by U.S. Steel since early November. It’s just one example of support the workers are getting both on and off the picket line as their dispute carries on.
Rolf Gerstenberger, Local 1005 president, said he is quite surprised at the support locked-out U.S. Steel workers are getting. “Normally, this kind of response, we get after we’ve been out a couple of months,” Gerstenberger said. “This support started right away. We’ve been out about a month and a half.”
Gerstenberger said the party was organized after the question was asked both within the union and by outside supporters if anything would be done for the workers’ children for Christmas. The idea then grew into a gathering for the workers and their supporters, as well.
Toys have been donated or purchased — there are at least 300 children from workers’ families — and food and refreshments will arrive throughout the evening. Tim Hortons, for example, is going to ensure the coffee keeps flowing, said Local 1005 executive member Ron Wells.
Local 1005 has thrown open the doors to everyone in the community to join them. Gerstenberger said any leftover toys will be sent to agencies also collecting toys for children of families in need.
The children’s program is from 4 to 7 p.m. The adult get-together, with live music, is from 7 to 11 p.m.
The amount of support the locked out U.S. Steel workers got for this function and are getting every day on the picket line has been astonishing, Wells said.
“We’ve had people coming out of the blue to donate. … It’s overwhelming that people are behind us and they recognize what we’re going through.”
Gerstenberger said, “People are always bringing food down to the picket line. It’s a continuous thing.”
On Monday, Richard Procher, Kelvin Forrest and Gary Tourneay were among a handful of other workers standing around a furnace, burning wood at the picket line outside U.S. Steel. The furnace was donated by a farmer and the wood is largely broken up pallets donated by the spouse of another worker, they said.
Procher has worked there since 1978, Tourneay since 1989, and Forrest for only four months.
Since Nov. 7, they’ve had a number of different unions stop by to hand over cheques — $10,000 from CAW, $500 from the postal workers’ union and $3,000 from another union, they said.
Then there are the countless number of people who have pulled up to hand over Tim Hortons coffee, food and even cash.
Some of the workers’ wives dropped off cabbage rolls, someone recalled. There was also a woman from a St. Catharines restaurant — who wished to remain anonymous — who dropped off two platters of sandwiches, recalled another locked-out worker.
Over the past couple weeks as the weather turned colder they have noticed a decline in these gifts, said one worker, who would not give his name.
Regardless of the amount of coffee and kindness they receive, they say they will stay out there as long as it takes.
Last Saturday, a McMaster University group visited the line for a pickup game of ball hockey, according to the school’s website.
Over at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hamilton, Local 1005 has “a special place in our hearts” said assistant director Duane Dahl. The clubs’ Ellis Avenue location has set up a barrel to collect food, clothing and gift donations for the workers’ families.
The clubs’ 11 after-school programs, at the students’ initiative, have challenged each other on a food drive for the families, and the children of all Local 1005 families are being offered a free one-year membership, Dahl said.
Dahl said Local 1005 has always come through for the clubs through the years. “This holiday season is our turn to give back.”
Picket lines went up around the U.S. Steel Canada plant on Burlington Street after 900 workers were locked out Nov. 7 after contract negotiations broke down over company-proposed changes to pensions.
— With files from Nicole O’Reilly, The Hamilton Spectator