Its unpatriotic to steal workers pensions

CLEVELAND – This is what steelworkers are saying as they build a campaign to save their pensions that are being sacrificed on the altar of corporate bankruptcies and outright theft by corrupt executives.

Now, in an unprecedented act, the Federal Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund “shut-down pension benefits” for steelworkers employed by Republic Technologies International (RTI).

The Bush Administration and Congress are dithering around with “reforms” on Wall Street and corporate accounting regulations to reassure investors, while little or nothing is being done to restore pensions to hundreds of thousands of workers. Legislation introduced into the House and Senate to provide financing for company under-funded pension and health funds has gone nowhere, being opposed by the Bush Administration.

Steelworkers are saying: We won’t stand for it! We earned our pensions. We demand they be paid! The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) is organizing a rally in front of the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 12, 2:00 p.m.

Steelworkers employed by Republic Technologies Institute, with plants in Lorain, Canton, and Massillon, Ohio, Lackawanna, N.Y. and Chicago, are especially angered over the unprecedented action taken by the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) in seizing the under-funded RTI pension fund. RTI has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the USWA says this action by the PBGC is “premature termination” of the RTI pension plan and cuts out shutdown pensions for over 2,000 steelworkers, abrogating a contractual agreement with the union. PBGC took this action only after President Bush fired the previous chairman.

Steelworkers point out that the PBGC is mandated by Congress to oversee pension funds, making sure that company payments into the funds are enough to pay all future pensions. Instead, companies have been allowed to plunder the funds and use billions of dollars of workers’ retirement money for company expenses that have nothing to do with pensions. There is a report out that General Motors’ pension fund is $61 billion under-funded!

The USWA is mobilizing its membership in support of legal and other actions being taken by the union to reverse the act of the PBGC. A bi-partisan letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao signed by Congressmen Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), being circulated among legislators. A dozen House members have already signed on.

City Councils in Cleveland, Lorain, Elyria, Oberlin, and Amherst have sent resolutions to the Labor Secretary and the PBGC. Thousands of signatures have already been gathered on petitions addressed to the Bush administration and the PBGC.

“If they can steal our pensions, then no pensions are safe!” say the steelworkers in their call to the Sept. 12 rally. They are asking all union members to join them and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in Youngstown.

An Ohio AFL-CIO Convention is being held in Cleveland the week of the rally, and a number of delegates are expected to head for Youngstown towards the end of the Convention. For further information and details of the rally, bus departures, and copies of resolutions, letters, and petitions, contact national coordinator Bruce Bostick at (440) 244-1358 or 1378, or at (440) 277-9980. E-mail bruceb@erienet.net.

The author can be reached at Wallyk@ncweb.com