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YOUNGSTOWN Benefits for retirees will end in weeks, LTV says



Published: Mon, February 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The end of coverage is coming much sooner than expected.

STAFF/WIRE REPORTS

YOUNGSTOWN -- LTV Steel said health care and life insurance benefts for hourly retirees will end March 31.

A fund that the company had set up to pay for benefits in emergencies will dry up at the end of March. LTV officials said in December that they thought the fund would last until the middle of this year.

"It's come much sooner than we expected, but this is a day we've all known was coming," said Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America.

Retirees covered by the LTV plan were paying between $115 and $130 a month for health insurance, said Marco Trbovich, a union spokesman. Now they will have to pay hundreds more for private coverage.

"They were strapped to make their contributions and coverage as it was," Trbovich said. "This is sheer devastation."

Retirees will be able to continue the current health care coverage at their own expense for a limited time, the company said. A federal law allows employees to continue this coverage, but only as long as the company remains in business.

LTV said information on the benefit changes will be mailed to retirees and surviving spouses in March. The company has between 6,000 and 7,000 retirees in the Mahoning Valley.

LTV received permission in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to get out of parts of its union contract because it is liquidating the company. Judge William Bodoh approved termination of retirees' benefits when the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association trust ran out of money.

Lawsuit: Meanwhile, eight ex-employees are suing the company on behalf of 2,000 former salaried employees who say the company terminated them with no notice, no severance pay and no health benefits.

Lawyer Robert P. Sweeney, representing the salaried workers, called it "fundamentally unfair" to work men and women for 30 years and, on the way out the door, strip them of their pensions and health benefits.

Workers are not endorsing any bidder trying to buy LTV Steel but want a deal to restart production, said Dave Baioni, president of the salaried workers' group. Ex-workers held a rally Saturday to discuss their situation.

Saying it was out of customers, LTV Steel idled its plants in November. A hearing is to be held Thursday on its plans to sell the plants, including a coke plant in Warren. LTV Corp. also is trying to sell its LTV Copperweld unit.

Confidentiality agreements have kept bidders for LTV Steel from disclosing details.

Bidder: But The Plain Dealer reported that Cleveland Steel wants portions of LTV's Cleveland assets and had financial backing from investors, including local developer Bart Wolstein and two companies that had considered making their own bids: Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and Park Corp.

Cleveland Steel includes LTV employees with experience managing steel-making furnaces at the Cleveland plant and Thomas N. Tyrrell, former chief executive of steel bar maker Republic Technologies International Inc., based in Fairlawn, Ohio.

WL Ross, a New York investment banking firm, made no statement, but Warren Mayor Hank Angelo said Cleveland Steel intends to keep the Warren coke plant operating if it is successful.

A source told The Plain Dealer that it wants both the Cleveland Works East Side plant, which produced steel for cars and appliances, and LTV's Indiana plant, which made high-grade and commodity steels for industrial and auto parts.




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