Former employees of RG Steel rally in effort to save Warren plant
By Burton Speakman
With just a day remaining until their medical benefits run out, more than 50 former employees of RG Steel gathered across the street from the Pine Avenue plant.
The workers said Wednesday their goal was to make the plant’s new owner understand they still want to return to their jobs and that the plant is taken care of while it is idle.
C.J. Betters Enterprises in Monaca, Pa., was the high bidder for the plant in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, but the sale has not been completed.
Chuck Betters, owner of C.J. Betters Enterprises, was not available to comment Wednesday.
The group was asking for two things. They want the plant to be winterized so that if someone does decide to reopen it, the blast furnace still will be functional.
“This plant has a lot of water and steam pipes that need to have antifreeze run through them because if they don’t, they’ll burst,” said Phil Spisak, a longtime worker.
“If they don’t take care of things within a couple of months, the blast furnace will just be a complete loss,” he said. “That’s 100 years of service that will just go to waste.”
Workers also are seeking information about who, if anyone, will operate the plant.
Betters is the high bidder, but he’s not an operator, said John Siwicki, another worker.
“They just have to try and get a new operator in this place,” he said.
Everyone here just wants to go back to work, said Lynn Markle. All the workers understand that there is some investment needed at the plant.
“We’ve always done everything that we’ve been asked and always made money,” Markle said. “In the past, though, if a department needed a little more money, they would just shut it down and outsource it. That’s not going to be good enough anymore.”
The plant needs an owner who sees the same potential the workers see to operate the steelmaking facility. The workers know that there are a lot of customers who relied on RG Steel, Markle said.
“It’s not just 1,200 people who depend on this plant. There are a lot of truckers and people who work for suppliers and customers,” he added.
Spisak said it also has been frustrating for the plant’s 1,200 workers to watch as their medical benefits expire at the end of the day Friday, yet they don’t know what is going to happen at the plant. The USW’s contract with the plant expires today, he said.
In addition, the employees can’t get any good information from the United Steelworkers national union, Siwicki said.
“I’ve never talked bad about my union before, but they keep passing the buck along to the local [union] to tell us what’s going on,” he said. “They’ve never come here en masse to talk to us.”
The issues are compounded for workers who had come to RG Steel from other states. Workers who live in other states go to meetings and learn about what they have to do to collect benefits in Ohio, said Richard Spiker of New Castle, Pa., but then they are told they will have to go to their home state for accurate information about their situation.
“There were a lot of workers from this plant who came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” he said.
A union official at the rally site said the union would have no comment.