LORAIN, Ohio – With a rallying cry of “Let’s Make Steel!” 200 people gathered together in the Lynn Williams Learning Center here. Under the leadership of Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), dozens of steelworkers, public officials, education and religious community leaders, rallied to save the bankrupt Republic Technologies Incorporated steel mill from shutting down.

“The next month is crucial for the future of Republic,” said Brown. Like other bankrupt steel companies, Republic is seeking a bank to apply, on the company’s behalf, for a loan from the Federal Emergency Loan Guarantee Fund. So far, 30 banks have turned them down. The company is under a court mandate to submit a financial reorganization plan by May 31.

John Willoughby, Republic’s vice president of Human Resources, credited Lorain’s community support for keeping the steel mill going. “Without that support, we would not be here today,” he said.

Roy Church, from Lorain Community College, pointed out that 4,500 jobs would be lost if the plant shut down, 2,000 in the mill, and 2,500 throughout the community.

Sharon Keppler, executive director of the Catholic Action Commission, spoke of the “devastating effect on our community, already straining to meet demands on government service agencies,” if RTI shut down.

Rep. Brown spoke of the loss of steelworkers benefits suffered by workers in plant closings. “There is a $9.00 per hour benefit cost in every ton of steel produced in the United States, a cost that is not born by industries in other countries because those countries have national health care programs. That is what we need in this country,” he said.

Brown spoke of Congressional bills being prepared that would create a Federal program to provide health benefits for workers suffering loss of their health insurance due to plant closings. “The bills will not be introduced until enough support is lined up to guarantee a bipartisan sponsorship,” he said.

United Steelworkers of America Local 1104 President Larry Iantele said the retirees are losing benefits they worked and paid for over a lifetime of work in the mills. “Their benefits came out of their wages,” he said, referring to the fact that the size of the wage package always includes the amount being paid into benefits.

“This steel mill has been the very center of Lorain’s economy for 107 years,” said Iantele, “and we intend to keep it here.”

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org