It struck like a knife to the gut when an old steelworker friend recently contacted me with an amazing story. According to my friend, the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) had just sent letters to retired Bethlehem steelworkers demanding that they pay back the pensions they had worked their entire lives to earn. Some retirees have to pay back up to $15,000.
Retired steelworkers, after having worked in extreme conditions in order to make the steel that built and ran our nation, and having paid into their pensions for their entire lives, are now being robbed by the very agency that was set up by Congress to protect them in conditions such as these, when their company goes bankrupt.
Infuriating as this is, unfortunately, it isn’t surprising to other steelworkers. This past year, steelworkers at Republic Technologies Inc. (RTI) saw their company file for bankruptcy. Forty steel companies have gone bankrupt in recent years. Workers (including myself) were upset, frightened that we would lose our jobs and savings through no fault of our own. However, at least we thought we were assured that the PBGC would protect our pensions. In fact, just a month before the RTI bankruptcy and shut down. LTV workers’ pensions were secured by the PBGC.
However, something changed in the next month. George W. Bush fired the director of the PBGC and appointed Steven Kandarian as head of that agency. Kandarian’s first official act was to arbitrarily shift the “official” shut down date for RTI to a fictitious date two months earlier for the sole purpose of disqualifying thousands of steelworkers from receiving their pensions.
This was a horrible blow! I myself, only three weeks short of 30 years, was one of those denied the pension I was due. We suffered five suicides among RTI workers. A dear friend, Auggie Waldron, dropped dead after opening his mail and seeing his benefits were cut off.
Our union (USWA) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the workers. Cities, counties, thousands of public officials, even the state of Ohio officially rallied to our cause, demanding that the PBGC pay the pensions. Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown worked to get other congressional reps to sign on to a letter demanding our pensions be restored. After 18 months, we finally received justice – or so we thought – when Federal Judge Economis in Youngstown ruled in our favor. However, the PBGC announced a week later that, instead of paying the pensions, they would appeal the decision.
So it’s not surprising to us to hear that the PBGC is demanding Bethlehem steelworkers pay back the pensions they earned.
This evil, cruel and inhuman action policy will keep on unless those at the top levels of the Bush administration hear a massive outcry demanding that the pension-grab be stopped. What can you do? Demand that the PBGC stop its undeclared war on retirees. Demand that the PBGC drop its appeal of the RTI lawsuit, and begin paying those workers the pensions we earned. Demand that the PBGC stop its evil, vicious, inhuman money grab from Bethlehem retirees. Even more important, call the White House and demand that George W. Bush tell his PBGC to stop the war against retirees!
– Bruce Bostick (firstname.lastname@example.org)