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Workers face uncertain future



Published: Wed, January 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Status of health care for retirees is still unsettled.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Kanovas Alexander has no desire to leave Warren, where he went to high school and lived for the past 33 years, where one son plays on the high school football team and a daughter is a basketball star.

But the 24-year veteran of LTV Steel says he doesn't have a choice. Since getting a pink slip from the Warren coke plant last month, he has been contemplating moving to Arizona or Columbus.

He said there is no point in searching for another job in the Mahoning Valley.

"I raised eight kids on the mill," he said. "Where can I go to find a job with that kind of money and that kind of benefits around here?"

Meeting: Alexander, 43, was among the hundreds of laid-off Steelworkers and retirees attending union hall meetings Wednesday on the fate of their jobs and benefits.

There was little new information, workers leaving a session at United Steelworkers of America local 1375 hall said.

"It was all informational about benefits," said Michael Rubicz, union president.

Officials had no word about the possible sale of bankrupt LTV's plants. Few in the crowd held much hope that their jobs would be salvaged by an outside buyer.

Ready to work: "It might not happen, but I want to be ready for it if it does," said Dan Spivey, of Youngstown, who worked for LTV, and its predecessor, Republic Steel, since 1973.

Spivey, 50, was born in Youngstown, but now is looking toward Pittsburgh or Columbus for his next job.

"You have got to do what you have got to do," said Spivey, 50. "It is not as bad as if my kids were still little."

Under a deal negotiated by the union before the end of the year, employees with enough age and tenure to apply for retirement before the shutdown will still be able to do so.

With his pension, Spivey said he should be able to afford to take an $8- or $9-an-hour job.

Health care: Pensions for retirees are secure because the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is taking them over, said Dave McCall, the union's district director. Still unresolved is health care for the roughly 70,000 retirees nationwide, he said.

The $75 million in the account for retiree health care is expected to run out sometime in the spring. McCall said he hoped the federal government would step in.

"The country and the company and the industry made promises to the retirees," he said. "Someone has to keep those promises."

Status: LTV's steel-making operations have been shut down, but its tubular plants are operating. Laid-off workers are to receive health care and supplemental unemployment pay until Feb. 28.

LTV is idling the mills now in hopes of selling them by Feb. 28. If they aren't sold by then, they will undergo a cold shut down, which makes them harder to restart.

LTV's coke plants in Warren and Chicago are idling only until Jan. 31.

Mark Tomasch, a company spokesman, said the company still is trying to sell the coke plants. Bill Prejsnar, Local 1375 unit chairman at the Warren plant, said union officials haven't been told anything recently about a possible sale.




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