A letter from Frank J. Rico, USWA Local 1223, Yorkville, Ohio, a Wheeling-Pitt steelworker

In People's Weekly World, 15 February, 1997

For most people in this valley that have friends and neighbors who are steelworkers, his efforts have been unsuccessful. There have been others that have expressed their opinion that we are "greedy" or "crazy" for rejecting the contract LaBow a.k.a. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel has offered. I am addressing these people in the hope that when clarified, they can make a more informed judgment.

The United Steelworkers hired two different "top of the line" accounting firms to study Wheeling-Pitt assets, and report to the union, in order that we could ask for a contract that the company could easily afford to give without placing them in jeopardy. By asking LaBow for something reasonable, we hoped to settle quickly and keep working. When LaBow rejected our offer, that in itself should have told the public that anything we asked for was unacceptable and his plan was to put us outside until we agreed to work under his terms.

Wheeling-Pitt makes $16 profit per ton for its steel, the rest of the industry makes $8. Even if LaBow would agree to our defined benefit pension plan, his profit margin would be reduced to $12 per ton which is still 50 percent more than the rest of the industry.

While LaBow has "sugarcoated" his side of the contract to the public, he hasn't let them read the fine print. Besides his unwillingness to give a "30 years and out" guaranteed pension plan, there are least three more important demands he has made.

1. The right to shut down any department or facility without having to guarantee any supplementary pay to employees that lose their jobs.

2. The right to contract out any job that can be done cheaper, thereby eliminating employees who can do the job "in house."

3. The right to eliminate all "non-steelmaking" jobs. Nurses, clerical workers, guards, janitors, grass cutters and snow removers, as well as the rail gang are some common examples, but it will be his definition of what "non- steelmaking" is.

If the union would agree to these, LaBow could eliminate as many as 1,000 of the 4,500 employees before they could even set foot in the mills again. Does this sound like an exaggeration? We know for a fact that the tin line in Yorkville - 111 people - and the coke plant in Steubenville - 232 people - are in the last days of usefulness. Throw in contracting out jobs and the non-steelmaking ones and make your own estimate!

The company says if that happens, these employees can take their defined contribution plans with them. The trouble with that is that a lot of these people not coming back will be in their mid-40s with about $18,000 to live on and have only 20 years left to try and build up a pension in any new job they get. LaBow's plan only guarantees $1,200 to $1,600 in retirement to anyone who turns 62 in the next four years.

When the contract expires, a new pension will have to be negotiated. Right now the economy and stock market are doing well. Four years from now if a recession occurs, which could easily happen, Wheeling-Pitt may only offer $600 to $1,000 per month to its retirees. If they can't live on that, they may be forced to wait four more years to see if a better plan will be offered.

In the 24 years I've worked at the Yorkville plant, three people have been killed. LaBow wants the right to send any electrician, millwright or rigger anywhere that he sees fit. If three people have been killed in familiar surroundings in their home plant, imagine the casualties that can occur by constantly placing people in unfamiliar places.

The highest guaranteed steel pension pays $1,800 a month; the lowest pays $1,200. We are only asking to reach the "bottom rung of the ladder." Two weeks before our strike an employee retired at Wheeling-Pitt with 51 years of service. He receives $801 a month, $399 below the lowest guaranteed plan. If he had retired in 1985 with 40 years, prior to bankruptcy, he would have received over $1,200. Because his family had health problems he couldn't retire back then and thereby lost $399 a month by staying 11 more years.

-Frank J. Rico, USWA Local 1223, Yorkville, Ohio

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