Crowd rails at denial of benefit
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Shouting "No Justice, No Peace," more than 400 Steelworkers rallied here to protest a federal pension agency's denial of shutdown pension benefits for laid off Republic Technologies International workers in Canton.
Some jobless Cold Metal Products workers joining the rally said Thursday they fear they'll face the same pension problems unless Republic workers win their fight.
"I'm here because I want to show support," said Harold Clinkscale, who had worked 29 years and 11 months for Cold Metal when the company abruptly closed its Youngstown plant last month.
"But I'm also here because whatever happens to these guys, there's a good chance it's going to happen to us," the Liberty Steelworker said. "We want to get prepared, one way or another."
Refused to pay
The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has refused to pay about 2,000 laid off Republic workers their shutdown pensions.
Generally a standard in steel union contracts, shutdown pensions allow workers with less than 30 years' service to collect an immediate, reduced pension when a plant closes. The amount varies, based on the employee's years of service.
Without the shutdown benefit, workers have to wait until they reach retirement age to receive a partial pension.
The United Steelworkers of America, which represents the Republic workers and the Cold Metal workers, is asking federal Judge Peter C. Economus to overturn the PBGC decision.
Other former Cold Metal workers attending the rally included Ron Lovich, a 26-year veteran, Ken Wagner, who had 291/2 years when the plant closed, and Frank Miranda, a recent retiree.
Lovich and Wagner said they worry that they'll also have trouble collecting their shutdown benefits because Cold Metal, like Republic, closed down its plant and filed for bankruptcy protection.
John Hall, who had 31 years and four months in when Cold Metal closed down, said he thinks the Sewickley, Pa.-based company closed the Youngstown operation to avoid paying its pension responsibilties there.
"Out of 93 employees, 79 of us had more than 25 years in. They didn't want to pay, so they shut us down," he theorized.
Leo Gerard, a USWA president, and several other local and regional union leaders addressed the demonstrators who gathered outside the Thomas D. Lambros federal courthouse in Youngstown.
Gerard said the PBGC's job is to pay the pension of Steelworkers and other employees when companies fail financially, and it did that the 1970s and 1980s even though it was underfunded at times.
"Now it's overfunded, and it's stealing people's pensions. Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, we need to fight to keep the PBGC honest," Gerard said. "If they can do this with no repercussions, they'll do it over and over again."
Dave McCall, USWA District 1 director, called the PBGC's denial of shutdown pensions for Republic workers "an outrageous change in federal policy that must be reversed."
He stopped short of saying that laid-off Cold Metal workers could face the same fate, however. "It could happen, but every case is different, so you can't assume that," he said.