A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – A Letter Writing Campaign

Time has gone by so slowly and the pain and respiratory difficulties are still my constant companions.  For three years there has been no real income, just a small, lost wage pension of five hundred dollars.  The minimal amount that I won for the years of past-lost wages was barely enough to last most of a year and that was only with drastic cuts to basic living expenses.  The time had come when I had to leave my home of sixteen years and returned to my mother’s home.

I had looked into Ontario Works for assistance.  What a joke!  They would take my five hundred a month and give me five hundred and four.  Four dollars would take me so much further.  I now understand the protests that I had seen in front of their offices downtown.  With no other help and my lawyer setting about starting the appeal I felt that I had to do something.  I knew I was good at writing, so I put my skills to use.  Firstly I brought out a book that I had started years ago, one that covered my life as an injured worker and what I believed was the shameful behaviour of my employer, ArcelorMittal Dofasco, WSIB and the Firestone Clinic, which has become the basis of this blog and I began to add to it.  Secondly, I began writing letters.  I wrote to the Ombudsman in December of 2012 but that seemed to be a large waste of energy.  For the next set of letters I decided that I would write directly to the government of Ontario.

With that in mind I wrote my letter and I sent it to the Minister of Labour for Ontario, the Honourable Yasir Naqvi.  I also sent this letter to the Minister of Health, the Honourable Deb Matthews, the PC Labour Critic, Randy Hillier, the NDP Labour Critic, Taras Natyshak, my MPP and NDP party leader, Andrea Horwath, the Ombudsman once again, to Jim Baske, CEO of ArcelorMittal Dofasco and a copy to my WSIB Advocate, Stan Gray.

The letter was as follows:

My name is Cheryl Camillo and I am an injured worker.  I ask you to forgive that this letter is so long. The injuries I’ve sustained over the years affect the respiratory system and long-winded explanations and constant talking take their toll. It is the main reason that I did not phone in a complaint; quite simply attempting to make phone calls, answering the follow-up questions and retelling my story is very difficult and exhausting.

My case seems straightforward and yet there is a distinct impression that something is not right or legal in the events that have taken place over the past number of years.  The reason I am writing to you is the relationship between ArcelorMittal Dofasco, WSIB and the doctors of the Firestone Clinic in Hamilton, which seems to be to the detriment of injured workers. While that may be the directive of these organizations there have been events and behaviours that, in my opinion, border on illegal or conspiratory in that they work together against injured workers.

I offer a synopsis of the interactions of both below and a detailed history of my case after.

In the relationship between ArcelorMittal Dofasco and WSIB there seem to be many situations where WSIB will bend over backwards to ensure that ArcelorMittal Dofasco is not fined for infractions of WSIB rules.  Non-reporting of incidents was and still is a major issue.  In 2002 ArcelorMittal Dofasco was cited for not reporting the injuries of salaried employees at a WSIAT Tribunal. I know this, as I was a witness for the employee who’s Tribunal this was.  Also in my own case ArcelorMittal Dofasco only submitted a few incidents while my Advocate’s binder was substantially thicker, as was obvious at my WSIAT Tribunal in December of 2009.  When I won my decision in November 2010, ArcelorMittal Dofasco conveniently lost my T4 slips for the years that covered the time from the initial accident until I became a salaried employee, which is contrary to Federal Income Tax laws.  When I found my copies, ArcelorMittal Dofasco conveniently found their copies.  My advocate asked WSIB what they were going to do about such a blatant act of refusing to provide information and the response was, “Nothing, they’re co-operating now.”  So it would seem that WSIB and ArcelorMittal Dofasco are both willing to turn a blind eye to the laws and regulations that are in place to provide a balanced judicial system for injured workers.

For ArcelorMittal Dofasco and the Firestone Clinic, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, the connections are a little more obscure yet the actions of the doctors themselves make little sense without the interference of the other.  This complaint was submitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in December 2012 and it was scheduled to go to their committee for review August 7, 2013, which seems to me to be substantial as I was warned at the beginning it could take upwards of 10 months to go to committee. The history of the Firestone Clinic, as I understand it, originally began with support from the then Dofasco Inc. and Stelco because of the respiratory problems in the City of Hamilton.  At the time of my initial exposure the Firestone Clinic was actively petitioning for funds to build a new complex.  Dofasco for its part has always been a “good corporate citizen” with grants and monies always available, even the Medical Department at Dofasco had at the time, a number of magazines from St. Joseph’s talking about the future expansion of the Firestone Clinic.  The initial doctor from the Firestone Clinic dismissed the report from the General Hospital and reported back to my family doctor that I was a neurotic, hypochondriac that “told an interesting story about getting gassed.” Things didn’t go much better with the other doctors from Hamilton Health Sciences as clinical discussions would be left out of reports that very well could have changed outcome of my case early on, and possibly would have prevented further damage to the respiratory system. Yet other doctors would not discuss current symptoms, specifically pain and difficulty breathing, and then to actually pulling statements like “getting better” out of thin air while the symptoms and pain continued.  It is my belief that the College of Physicians & Surgeons found merit within some of my concerns although they have not yet rendered a decision.

For ArcelorMittal Dofasco, they have a reason to dislike me to the point of being blacklisted and I believe this may be part of the reason for the interference in my case and healthcare.  As I mentioned, I was a subpoenaed witness at a 2002 WSIAT Tribunal hearing.  Part of this hearing dealt with an employee who had back injuries that were aggravated when riding on a plant bus in 1999. Dofasco presented to the Tribunal pictures of a plant bus that was not in use at the time. When I testified, I provided an old picture of the type of plant bus that was actually used at the time of injury, one the might have been responsible for the injury. Dofasco immediately changed its story and was forced to admit it had given wrong information to the Tribunal.  I was then disciplined for giving the picture of the plant bus for use at the hearing.  Punish the messenger!

My request for a copy of this disciplinary paper was ignored for two week and after a follow-up email to HR, I spent 10 minutes being yelled at, over the phone, that it was “Dofasco’s paperwork” and that I had no right to it. The ferocity of the phone call and yelling was evident to the other person in the room who could hear the gentleman from HR from where she sat across the room. Also I was never told that I had a right to make a hand-written copy of the disciplinary report. Dofasco did lose that decision, although they did find ways to have that employee suffer after he retired.

In December 2012, I contacted the Ombudsman’s Office and the office of my MPP, Andrea Horvath, and the College of Physicians & Surgeons with these concerns.  The response I got from the offices of the Ombudsman and my MPP was, “We don’t deal with WSIB cases. Please contact the Office of the Worker Advisor.”  At the same time I also submitted the complaint to the ArcelorMittal Whistleblower office in Luxemburg, to which no response was ever received.  The College of Physicians and Surgeons is the only organization that has followed up with my concerns.

My case history:

In December 1995, I was involved in a gassing, chemical release while on the Temper Mill at the then, Dofasco Inc., in Hamilton, ON.  My contact with this chemical was a little more intense as I was in charge of inspection and had been touching and smelling the solution on the steel to try to determine what was in fact happening, prior to it being released into the mill building. We received some treatment at the Dofasco Medical Center and with further complaining; we eventually made it to the General Hospital where we were put on oxygen for approximately 2 hours.  The investigation later showed that the Roller (operation leader) had hooked up the wrong chemicals and in order to clear the lines, had hooked up a high pressure air line, opened the valve full, and left the area without informing those of us still in the area.

The WSIB acknowledged the injury, but refused to provide ongoing benefits, claiming there was no permanent respiratory impairment.  From December 1995 until early 1999, I remained working in the plant while experiencing worsening respiratory problems.  In 1997, I was diagnosed with Asthma, even though I had never before experienced any type of asthmatic event although I did have some environmental allergies. In 1999 the respiratory problems led one of the physicians at Dofasco to remove me from the plant environment.  This resulted in not being able to return to plant work and a decrease in pay rate.

From 1999 until 2002, I worked in various plant locations.

In 2002, I was offered a salary position, which I accepted because a number of injured workers were being sent home without income at the time.  I was a single parent and that was not a position that I could put my family in.

From 1999 until April 2010, there were numerous incidents that would require me to attend the Medical Department to receive oxygen.  More often then not, I would return to my work station, and while work levels would decrease, I would force myself to work through the balance of the day and until I felt better. With each event it would take longer and longer to recover and over time it was necessary to give up many of the activities I enjoyed.  Despite the above, WSIB continued to deny my ongoing impairment.

In December 2009, I had my WSIAT Tribunal. The Occupational Hygienist explained to the panel that the initial exposure equaled to a chlorine exposure and explained what the doctors over the intervening years, wouldn’t. He also clarified some of the inconsistencies that seemed to be part of the earlier reports. Then we waited for the panel to render their decision.

In April 2010, I experienced another severe exposure. This incident by far was one of the worst from recent memory.  Every breath now hurts.  It is difficult to inhale and my ability to function has been drastically impacted. After my physician submitted her report of the exposure to WSIB, Dofasco once again, was forced to submit forms to WSIB even though I had received treatment at the Medical Department the morning of the exposure. I was awarded temporary WSIB benefits.  In October 2010, WSIB cancelled benefits stating that my lung capacity had returned to pre-accident levels, yet the pain and difficulty breathing persisted.   On November 23, 2010, the WSIAT Tribunal awarded me the decision from the 2009 trial.  Letters to WSIB from my advocate asking for them to reinstate my benefits were ignored, calls were not returned – and ultimately denied. 

In May of this year, I finally received a report that explained everything that I had gone through and that talked to the continuing symptoms experienced to this day. An expert physician wrote it after I was examined at the Occupational Health Centre for Ontario Workers, which is not associated with either Hamilton Health Sciences or ArcelorMittal Dofasco. This information was forwarded to the College and to WSIB.  The specialist concluded that I was no longer employable due to my injury-related condition.  The WSIB confirmed the denial without even reviewing his report.

The last 3 years have been the most difficult. In 2011, my Short Term Sick Benefits were finished, and the insurance company for ArcelorMittal Dofasco denied the application for Long Term Disability even with reports from my family doctor stating that the ability to return to any kind of work was unlikely.  I have since lost my home and I am now left considering legal action. Yet I will trust that this is not the system that was intended when WSIB and Labour regulations were enacted.  I am asking that you and your office intervene.

Surely someone, anyone, would at the very least be willing to listen to my concerns and offer some assistance.  I must say it’s a very sad state of affairs in the province of Ontario!  After four weeks I had received NO responses, not a blessed one.  So I sent the letter to Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, just in case I wasn’t going to hear back and so I waited, again.  The responses from the Premier and the Ministers of Labour and Health will be the topics of the blogs that follow.

One thought on “A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – A Letter Writing Campaign

  1. Pingback: A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker’s Story – A summary of events | A Long Dark Road, an Injured Worker's Story

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