A very loud, spirited and angry crowd of steelworkers and their supporters rallied outside the Federal Courthouse in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 12, where an opening status hearing was taking place on the United Steelworkers of America’s (USWA) legal challenge to the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation’s (PBGC) unprecedented action denying shutdown pensions to RTI workers.
The crowd was so loud that the walls literally shook! Federal marshals, clearly very nervous at the size and anger of the crowd, kept coming outside to ask how long the rally would last, if folks could step back from the building, if we could let others come in, etc. The federal judge and others were seen peering out at the angry crowd.
Two buses from Lorain were completely packed, and were followed out of town by a caravan of loaded vans and cars, heading to the rally. The caravan was given an escort out of town by the Lorain Police. It is estimated that approximately 150 Lorain unionists and their supporters made the trip to the Youngstown rally.
Besides our members, other public figures made the trip in order to show support for our demand that the PBGC pay our pensions. These included State Representative Joe Koziura, City Council reps Ken Shawver, Red Flynn, Ann Molnar and Fred Lozano, Commissioner Betty Blair, as well as many of our brothers from the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), our union retiree organization.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, it was immediately clear that this was one extremely angry and determined crowd! Loud doesn’t come close to describing how much noise this group, topping out at around 700, was making. The rally got much louder right after we got there, when a caravan of 60-80 steelworkers on cycles poured in from Massilon. Others came from Canton, Cleveland, Beaver Falls and Pittsburgh!
Union signs and banners identified the numerous locals represented, and demanded that our hard-won pensions be returned to us! Most blamed George W. Bush, since he had appointed Steven Kandarian the new head of the PBGC just prior to the PBGC’s theft of our pensions!
District Director Dave McCall set the tone when he stated that “this company is made up of criminals, and we intend to fight them in every way possible until we reestablish dignity for our members and win back our pensions!”
“Security of our homeland must mean more than more police,” Dave said, “Real security is economic security for working people, pensions for our retirees and health care for working families!”
Other speakers brought greetings and support from the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union, as well as the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
USWA International President Leo Gerard said, to loud cheers of the crowd, that “the terror that viciously struck the World Trade Center isn’t the only terror we face. Greedy corporate CEOs, allied with the Bush administration, stealing our pensions is economic terrorism!”
Leo spoke of the need to “fight smart,” not allowing the bosses to shut down our mills and run off with our pensions. He pledged that “the USWA will fight this fight with everything at our disposal until victory is ours!” He pointed out that we are carrying this fight forward for all working people!
After making our point, in no uncertain terms, that we demand that the PBGC pay our pensions, (and scaring hell out of everyone in the courthouse), we adjourned to the USWA Local 1375 Union Hall. Local 1375 was the USWA local that fought the historic Little Steel Strike of ’38, laying the basis for our union to be born. At this historic hall, made from old WWII Quonset huts, we were given a wonderful meal and made to feel at home by the members of that brother union local.
This was the opening shot of our campaign. Usually PBGC court cases can take years to be settled. However, we have an extremely good law firm and our political campaign is designed to put pressure on the administration to get off the ball and pay our pensions! As an opening gun in our fight, we certainly made our point! We need for everyone to get involved in order to keep up the pressure and win this fight as soon as possible.
Bruce Bostick is a National Organizer for the United Steelworkers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org