NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — When steelworkers George Korcedes and Paul Santilli attended the event for Barark Obama here, they hoped that Obama would touch on the struggle for pensions that steelworkers and others are having. They never expected what they got.
Korcedes is a member of a Steelworkers local at Stark Ceramics, in nearby Canton, Ohio, where plant management had pocketed workers’ health care premiums, child care and 401k contributions and had attempted to steal workers’ pensions.
USW had mounted a fight and the state Attorney General was investigating the company for fraud. However, in the case of the pensions, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) had supposedly taken over the pension plan, with the goal of distributing the monies due to the workers. This is what they’d heard, but it had been over two years and nobody at the PBGC would confirm this or give anyone any time frames.
So, Korcedes and Santilli hoped to be able to at least bring this issue up. They did, and how!
“Obama really hammered them on the need for health care for everyone and on how we needed to change the bankruptcy laws to put workers first, not last, like we are now,” Santilli said.
During the Q & A period, Korcedes rose and spoke about his pension, and how nobody would even get him an answer to his questions. He spoke on the terrible injustice in how workers are treated by this economy.
“That’s horrible, and it’s exactly what we’re talking about here today,” Obama replied. “These are decent people, who follow the rules, work hard, and then get treated in this manner. This must end!”
Both guys were happy that they’d addressed the issue and felt like they’d done their job.
Imagine their surprise when, no more than 10 minutes after arriving back home, the phone rang, and it was the PBGC. “We just wanted you to know that we’re working on your pension, and we’ll be able get it to you very soon,” they said.
“It was almost panicy,” according to Santilli. “They were literally falling all over themselves trying to sound friendly, like they had actually been doing something up till then!”
Obama’s rally, meanwhile, was a great success. Over 250 folks in this rural, working-class area of Ohio attended.
“I’m really glad that the PBGC got back to me, finally,” said Korcedes, “but we’re not going to be able to really get this stuff addressed until we elect Obama and kick the Republicans out of office!”
The front page of the next day’s Canton Repository had a big picture of Korcedes and Obama shaking hands.