I had always pictured my retirement day as a day of honor and celebration. Handshakes-backslaps-good natured joking, basking in the glow of decades of friendship and satisfaction in a job well done.

Instead, on the last day of the year of 2001, 14 of us South Chicago LTV workers stood nervously lined up in a narrow hallway at a hastily set up office in the administration building of Hammond, Indiana’s Calumet College. Along with the shutdown of most of the production facilities, management had ordered the shutdown of the employee benefits office in Indiana Harbor.

I was the “youngest” of this group that was retiring, having hired in April 1974 when it was Republic Steel 7 a.m.-3 p.m., 3 p.m.-11 p.m., 11 p.m.-7 a.m., morning, noon and midnights, weekends, holidays “all the time work” for 27 years. I was dizzy from weekly rotating shifts, the 12 and 16 hr. shifts.

I started in the hot tube mill then transferred to the boiler house, became a boiler washer, then helper and oiler, fireman, and finally a Stationary Engineer. Late in December we had gotten word from the union that in light of LTV’s bankruptcy, those of us with less than 30 years service had better retire ASAP in order to secure our pensions.

None of us had wanted to retire just now – we all had other plans. We had fought to keep the plant open by going to demonstrations in East Chicago, Youngstown and Washington D.C., fighting LTV’s shutdown plans. But here we were.

You always figure when you’re going to retire it should be on your own terms. But here we were – heaters, electricians, the guys from the dock, each of us on edge, standing in line. Some had just finished working the midnight shift, waiting our turn in the cubicle to sign our papers. Then each new retiree made his way back down the line, awkwardly shaking hands and saying good-byes.

Next I went back to the plant to turn in my badge. There were some other guys talking and wishing each other good luck. Out of the office came the Superintendent literally flipping out. Waving his arms, he hollered in his most intimidating manner, “You can’t do this. Its a violation of the court order” He actually threatened to pull the papers of any worker who dared to exercise his contractual right to retire – and protect his pension. Now LTV needed us.

Well actually he did me a favor cause he got me fired up again. Most of the workers weren’t intimidated and we didn’t crawl back and tear up our papers. We stayed retired as our union directed us to. Our plans now are to do whatever has to be done to protect our retirees’ health care benefits make sure the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation) is funded and some are circulating a petition for public ownership of the steel mills.