Listen to America...

In late July and early August, Listening to America/Platform for Change hearings across the country invited grassroots input for the 2008 Democratic national platform.

Below is testimony by steelworker retiree Bruce Bostick at the Aug. 2 hearing in Cleveland, Ohio and Judith LeBlanc, United for Peace and Justice organizing coordinator, at the July 23 hearing in New York, N.Y.

Help hard-working families survive — a 30-year steelworker’s story

By Bruce Bostick

After working 30 years at Lorain Works (first US Steel, then Kobe, finally RTI —Republic Technologies, Inc.) on tough, hard jobs, working turns and working for many years as grievance committeeman, chair of that union committee for Local 1104, USWA, I took my pension, in August 2002 (hired in August 1972) It should’ve been a very good pension, close to $3,000 a month.

However, right after my 30-year anniversary, RTI called off the night turn, and stated that they had a shutdown and were declaring BANKRUPTCY!

PBGC steals our pensions!

The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. should’ve stepped in, seizing the pension plan to protect our pensions. However, at that time Bush replace the head of the PBGC (Steven Kandarian), and his first action was to MAKE UP A NEW DATE, out of clear cloth (June, instead of August), stated that this was the date the PBGC would recognize as the “date of bankruptcy/PBGC seizure of pension plan.”

THIS WAS DONE FOR ONLY ONE REASON---TO AVOID PAYING THE 70/80 PENSIONS OF THE STEELWORKERS. (70/80 pensions were negotiated by our union for exactly this type of situation — if worker has 70-80 points, seniority plus age 70-plus at the time of a bankruptcy/shutdown, worker gets an immediate pension).

For me, it meant I could never reach the 30-year plateau that I had earned for my pension.

MY PENSION DROPPED BY 1/3!

FIVE WORKERS AT RTI COMMITTED SUICIDE (including Jay Schroeder, whose older brother was killed at Kent State). Workers lost health care, pensions. Many families broke up, divorces, illnesses, everyone I knew suffered clinical depression, etc.

Federal court

USW fought it, holding rallies, marches, news conferences, and took it to federal court, where we won. However, instead of paying our pensions, PBGC appealed to a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court, Cincinatti (all GOP, two Bush appointees) — they ruled that “Steelworkers had no expectation of receiving pensions.”

Sherrod Brown

As difficult as this situation is, one bright spot has been the hard work of our senator, Sherrod Brown. He’s sponsored legislation to reform corporate bankruptcy laws so this could be stopped in the future — S 2092. He’s brought our union/workers into meetings w/the technicians at the PBGC, and he’s shown a genuine sensitivity to the workers and their families, going above and beyond the call to help us.

THANKS, SHERROD!!

Columbus and insurance hell

Meanwhile, I relocated to Columbus, in order to help out my folks, now in their 80s. Unfortunately, the job I’d been promised there fell through and I had to rely on my partial pension, without health care.

Since getting to Columbus, I’ve been trying to obtain health care. Two companies turned me down, even though I’m healthy, work out, eat well, etc—I’m 59!

Signed up with Aetna a couple months ago, thought I had insurance. However, it then went to the underwriters — first, fill out five-page information form, then, began an endless series of requests for “more information.” Then, a request for all my medical records. I said I’d sign it, but it was sent in a non-Word document and I couldn’t open it. Their answer: “IT’S THE ONLY FORM WE HAVE!”

(Never heard of the U.S. Mail, I guess!)

I called to try to discuss the extremely frustrating situation with someone, only to have the people there tell me, “It’s not my department!”

A friend in the UAW (Dave Pavlik) likes to say that “Insurance companies want to insure pig iron, in the ocean, against fire!”

I still have no health care, and I agree with Dave!

We need real health care, when we need it, not endless bureaucracy!!! MEDICARE FOR ALL — HR 676!!!

Depression

This situation, along with the difficult situation helping out with my folks, was taking its toll. My dad went into the hospital for a knee replacement, but complication after complication kept him in for over three months. I approached a counselor who was helping my dad about the possibility of seeing someone for myself. She thought she could help, and recommended three or four psychologists. However, when they found out I didn’t have insurance, they each declined to see me.

My brother suggested I check out the public networks, which I did. However, they sent me to the ONLY COUNSELOR AVALABLE — RIGHT-WING CHRISTIAN COUNSELORS, with pictures of Pat Robertson on the wall, James Dobson magazines. After talking with a young counselor and filling out an information sheet, I ran, actually terrified of what they’d do with my info.

Family

This has been a terrible extra burden on my family, already burdened with helping my father (who had been an athlete — Hoosiers). He’s been in and out of the hospital, and we’ve had difficulty getting in home help.

We’ve heard for years people talking about family values. My sister, whom I dearly love, is gay. It would seem to me that “family values” should mean something besides hating part of your family — it should mean actually helping hard-working families survive!

Stand firm for peace

by Judith LeBlanc

United for Peace and Justice/NYC appreciates the opportunity to make input into the platform of the Democratic Party. Nationally, UFPJ is encouraging peace groups and activists to join these hearings all around the country as part of our national nonpartisan peace voter engagement campaign.

We have protested in the streets, in the halls of Congress and it is fitting that we bring this issue here to the delegates to the DNC.

It is critical for the DNC platform committee to draw the proper conclusions from the atrocity of the illegal war in Iraq and to take into account the growing public sentiment for a foreign policy premised on diplomacy first!

A vast cross-section of NYers, from unions, community groups and faith-based organizations, have opposed this war from the beginning. We rallied on February 15, 2003, a million strong filling the streets of Manhattan in an international day of action to prevent the war.

Now the overwhelming sentiment is for rolling back the Bush administration’s policy of endless war. NYC peace sentiments are strong and very well organized. Senator Clinton, Congressman Rangel and a majority of the Congressional delegation have heard us and voted against funding for the war!

In NYC, we, in a very personal way, know how the Bush administration manipulated the fears and the tragedy of Sept 11 to rationalize the war in Iraq and a never-ending war on terror. An act of terror is a crime, not a call for war!

Even before they entered the White House, the Bush administration’s foreign policy was premised on first strike, preemptive war. When they took office, they sidelined diplomacy and degraded international law, international institutions and multilateral cooperation.

The country, the world, needs a 180-degree turn away from the Bush administrations foreign policy.

The platform must stand firm on diplomacy as the primary premise of US foreign policy. This political framework is not based on pacifism, it’s realism!

Senator Obama got it right yesterday when he said that General Petreaus looks at facts on the ground in Iraq, but the Commander in Chief must also look at facts on the ground in our communities, the economic costs of the war.

The time is long past for military solutions for the world’s most pressing problems. Not in Iraq, not in Iran, not anywhere.

An escalation of Bush’s war on terror will not strengthen national security.

National security is only achievable on a global basis through international cooperation, confidence-building measures. We need human and collective international security. Diplomacy, not war!

Real national security is only achievable through the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, starting with the US adhering to international disarmament agreements. Bush has ignored the US obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty while threatening Iran with preemptive war.

Together, the peace movement and the Democratic Party must press for diplomacy, not war as a just foreign policy to begin to address the world’s complicated problems.

Thank you and see you in Denver!