Nearly 200 steelworkers expecting to go back to work after an expected Christmas break instead found out abruptly that their company, Hamilton Specialty Bar Inc., had shut down.

The first week of January, company executives told the union, United Steelworkers Local 4752, that they had a "cash flow problem" and wouldn't be running, said local president Mickey Mercanti.

By Jan. 8, the papers had been filed for the company to enter a receivership, where a third party assumes control of the company while it is in court-supervised bankruptcy protection or restructuring.

Court documents say the company was in default on a $27.6 million loan with Wells Fargo as of the end of December. 

The receiver is expected in Toronto court on Thursday to discuss a plan to sell the company.

Workers called back

But as of Tuesday, the plant is humming,

Mercanti said the 170 unionized workers are back in the melt shop and mill, cranking out orders for the company's top three clients left in the lurch by the news of the shutdown.

The receiver has called them back into work for a four-week period.

"Our product is very good – this should actually be a gold mine," Mercanti said. "We have tons of orders."

Hamilton Specialty Bar

Local steelmaker Hamilton Specialty Bar is in receivership, but 170 unionized workers are back on the job as of Tuesday for four weeks. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"We're in there now and we're producing – hopefully somebody comes along and picks us up," he said.

Most of the company's 47 salaried employees have been laid off, according to the documents.

'They're at the whim of some company'

Hamilton Specialty Bar used to be owned by Slater Steel and was purchased by a partnership of two American capital firms a decade ago, when Slater was in bankruptcy court.

The company, on Sherman Avenue North, molts its own steel and makes ingots and round bars, mostly for the automotive industry.  

The company's pension fund was wound up when it was last bought in 2007, meaning that the only pension the company has ongoing is a defined contribution fund for existing workers.

But about 400 retirees have lost their medical and other retirement benefits during the shutdown.

"I feel so bad for the retirees," he said. "They're sitting at home, and they're at the whim of some company."

A phone call to the company's headquarters was redirected to Ernst and Young, the receiver. A company spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on client matters.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca