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COLD METAL Angry workers gather at plant



Published: Thu, August 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The workers are also concerned about their pensions and benefits.

THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

By MARALINE KUBIK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CAMPBELL -- Jim Smith went to work for Cold Metal Products a few years after graduating from high school.

At 21, he figured a job at the metal processing plant would enable him to support a family, build financial security and eventually retire.

After 281/2 years, Smith is locked outside the chain-link fence that surrounds the plant.

His work shoes, hand tools and spare clothes are inside. So are those of Smith's 115 co-workers.

"I have pictures of my family in there, including one -- if I tell you about it I'll cry -- of an 18-month-old baby killed in a car crash," one of Smith's co-workers said. "I want that picture back."

A crowd of about 100 workers gathered outside the gate late Wednesday morning hoping to find out why the company that most of the workers spent decades serving closed without notice.

Cold Metal Products closed its Youngstown plant Aug. 15 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the next day.

"I always thought with 30 years, we'd be safe," Smith said. "Now, it's up to a bankruptcy judge."

At 49, the Liberty resident is uncertain about what his future holds. "I'm going to sign up for unemployment and play the lottery," he said.

Close to retirement

Fifteen of Smith's co-workers have worked for Cold Metal more than 30 years and were eligible for retirement benefits; 78 others have worked there 25 years or more, said John Hall, a union grievance committeeman. Hall has worked at Cold Metal 311/2 years.

"I assume my pension is safe; I'm here for these guys," he said, pointing to co-workers who needed to work only another year or two to qualify for retirement.

"This guy here would have had 30 years in September. Sept. 3 is his anniversary," he said, singling out Harold Clinkscale.

"This is what I gave the company," Clinkscale said, holding up a tiny stump, all that remains of his right thumb. Clinkscale, also a grievance committeeman, is visibly bitter about how the company handled the closing -- having security guards escort workers out when they reported for work.

"They are treating us like criminals when they are the ones who stole from the city, the state, [taking tax abatements and loans]," Hall fumed.

Workers dedicated years of their lives to the company, many lost fingers, he said, and they weren't given any warning, can't even collect their belongings without making an appointment.

Physical scars

A few of Hall's co-workers hold up their hands; all are missing fingers or thumbs.

"I got $900 for this," said Frank Basista, holding up his stump of a thumb. He lost it in 1950 and worked 32 more years before retiring in 1982. Now, the Struthers resident is worried about losing his pension and benefits.

Stephen Sandor, 67, of Campbell retired six years ago when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He said he can't afford to pay for his own health insurance, so if worse comes to worst, he'll do what he can to ensure his wife has hospitalization, allow his insurance to lapse and just pray that he doesn't get sick too.

Two men from inside the plant refused to allow workers in, including one worker who'd called and made an appointment.

"I guess they got scared when we all showed up. They just canceled, sort of what they did with our jobs," one worker said.

The workers formed a caravan to the plant after a union meeting Wednesday morning in Roosevelt Park, where elected officials pledged support to workers and elaborated on the impact Cold Metal's closing will have on the community.

kubik@vindy.com




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