Nine long months later, not much had changed except maybe my patience. There was no help to be found from the Respirologists at Hamilton Health Science’s Firestone Clinic and my family doctor had run out of ideas. We had done the muscular-skeletal testing, heart testing, drugs were ineffective and it began to look like this would be my life routine, tired and in constant pain. At the urging of my family doctor I had even agreed to attend a weight loss clinic and the weight was beginning to come off. Still the pain and difficulty breathing continued.
I made a decision at that point that if this was to be my life then I might as well try to get back to work, pain and all. So in December 2010, I contacted one of the Rehab Placement Officers, Gwen Butler at ArcelorMittal Dofasco and we set up an appointment. I went to see Gwen and even though breathing was difficult at best and the pain had started to escalate. Gwen told me if I couldn’t do it yet, not to worry. I said that if this is how my life is going to be, I was willing to give it a try. So we set up a return to work date of January 17, 2011.
On January 17th, I arrived a little early for my meeting with my Coach and Team Leader, who if they agreed I could return and that I could be accommodated, would have brought me back over to the Learning and Development offices. As I got out of the car I noticed a slight acrid smell in the air. I quickly covered my mouth and nose with my scarf and hurried into the Medical Department’s waiting room. As I sat there finding it more and more difficult to breathe, I noticed one of the women from the Claims Department crossing the hall. I heard her talk to someone in the room just off of the waiting room, from the response; it must have been the Case Manager, Marianne Frkovic, for WSIB Claims. The woman who has seen me stated “Cheryl’s sitting in the waiting room and it doesn’t look like she’s doing very well.” The response came “It doesn’t matter, it isn’t Comp!”
Yet I had won my case and this was definitely work-related. As the pain and difficulty in breathing increased to an almost unbearable state, Gwen came out to get me. She took one look at me and said if this is too difficult then we can put it off. I said I would like to and I would go home and call my family doctor. She called Learning & Development and told them that the meeting would not take place today as I was having difficulty breathing. I slowly made my way out to the car with the acrid smell still in the air.
As I got into the car, I noticed the new Recognized Signing Authority for ArcelorMittal Dofasco, Gary Bent. I had met Gary when I had first joined the SOP group years before. He came over to see how I was doing. I told him that I wasn’t doing well and told him a bit of what was happening. Gary grew very concerned and repeatedly asked me if I would like him to drive me home. I said that it was all right and I would just take my time. Gary was quite adamant that I not drive but he finally relented and very reluctantly let me leave. I have to admit, getting home was quite the relief. In truth, I hadn’t been at all sure if I could make it home and as I passed close to my mother’s the thought came that perhaps I should stop in yet I knew she would not be able to handle the sight of me in such pain. So there was no choice but to continue home. The doctor could do nothing for the pain so I remained cocooned at home with the pain and difficulty in breathing now my constant companions.
ArcelorMittal Dofasco short-term sick pay was going to expire in April of 2011, so the company sent out forms for Long-term Disability. These I were completed and as per the other claim forms that had been submitted, my doctor stated that there was little change to my condition and that return to work would not happen. Of course SunLife Assurance, ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s insurance provider, got directions from the company and their final response was a simple “Don’t work there.”
My belief is that this was the just the start of retaliation, something that ArcelorMittal Dofasco is very proficient with. Yet their actions with SunLife Assurance were but a small part of what was to come. The depth of ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s involvement with WSIB was yet to be seen. When I was awarded the decision I was also awarded my lost wages, which was the difference of what I earned while working in the plant environment to what was offered for modified office work.
When ArcelorMittal Dofasco was asked to supply my earnings statements that covered the years around the accident, their response was that they were “lost.” Under Federal Income Tax laws this would have been fairly serious breach of the law yet it is amazing that income statements from 1984 until 1994 and from 2002 until the present time were available. You see there had been an increase of $10K in income during 1995. When I was able to produce my earning statements, ArcelorMittal Dofasco had no choice but to suddenly say that they had “found” them. My advocate asked WSIB what they were going to do about such a blatant disregard for the laws and requirements of employment. WSIB’s response to him was “Nothing! They’re co-operating now.” My advocate equated this with the police letting a thief go because they had brought the loot back. This is the type of “bedroom” politics that happens between big business in Ontario and Ontario’s WSIB and I believe it is proof that WSIB is not doing anything to protect Ontario workers.
After this ArcelorMittal Dofasco pretty much ceased talking to me.