Steelworkers stand up for jobs

CLEVELAND – Under the banner, “Stand up for Jobs,” and chanting “Let’s make steel,” 200 steelworkers and supporters rallied at City Hall March 8. Organized by the Northeast Ohio Steel Summit, the rally celebrated the reopening of LTV steel mills under the ownership of WL Ross.

“This is what it takes to make a community” said Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, “people standing together.”

Thanking all present for making it happen, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), a member of the Steel Summit, said “I’m here to save jobs. My father was a steelworker, we need these jobs!”

City Councilman Roosevelt Coats, a steelworker himself, said, “We’ve come a long way in saving steel in Cleveland, but much still needs to be done to guarantee steel in Cleveland’s future.”

United Steelworkers of America (USWA) District 1 Director Dave McCall got a standing ovation for his work. He also pointed out that there remains work to be done. “Seventy-one thousand retirees need full pensions and health benefits, and we intend to save those benefits for the men and women who built the industry and the union we have today!”

Rodney Mott, the executive hired by W.L. Ross to run the unnamed new steel company, spoke at the rally. Mott, formerly with U.S. and NUCOR Steel, said he was “somewhat overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support” he sees in Cleveland for making steel. Saying an agreement would be worked out with the union, he said, “It was steelworkers who taught me what it was all about when I first started out in the Fairless Works, and we are in this together to make steel.”

W.L. Ross purchased the blast furnaces and rolling mills in Indiana Harbor and Cleveland, Ohio, the finishing mill at Hennepin, Ill., and three small railways in the Chicago area. Facilities for taconite in Lorain, coke in Warren and limestone in Ashtabula County, all in Ohio, are to be restarted. Only 3,000 of the 7,500 people who once worked for LTV will be called back, as the company plans to run the mills at half their capacity.

The only facility not included is the Chicago coke plant. On Feb. 10, LTV shut off the gas at the Chicago and Warren coke plants. The Chicago plant has been destroyed and will be sold as scrap. USWA Local 1375 President Mike Rubicz, working with Warren Mayor Hank Angelo, succeeded in getting the coke ovens gas back on in time to save that plant.

The USWA and W.L. Ross have reached a preliminary agreement. But local union officers and USWA staff in Cleveland warn that there is still a lot of “hard bargaining ahead to reach an agreement.”

Intense negotiations will be underway in Pittsburgh to finalize a contract by startup time in April.

By filing for bankruptcy, LTV dropped their retiree pensions and healthcare costs and evaded environmental liabilities that would have come due had the plants been shut down.

Retiree pensions will be covered by PBGC, a federal pension guarantee agency. But retiree health-care benefits will be lost unless Congress acts to pick up the so-called “legacy costs” of the steel industry. Mott acknowledged the debt owed to LTV retirees and said his new company would “help out.”

Rank-and-file workers collected 1,500 signatures on petitions calling on the City of Cleveland to take over the mills by eminent domain to keep them open. Their petitions encouraged 50 community and union leaders to send a letter to Bankruptcy Court Judge Bodoh indicating eminent domain would be used if necessary to keep the plants open.

USWA member Rick Dvorak told the World that there is still work to be done. “The next step is to create a domestic market for steel,” he said. Dvorak referred to the Rebuilding the American Infrastructure Act (HR-1564), introduced into Congress by Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Steve La Tourette (R-Ohio).

“Four months ago, no one thought there was a chance, that it would take a miracle to save steelmaking jobs in Cleveland,” Kucinich, also a member of the Steel Summit, told the crowd. “But, together, all of you made it happen.”