Ohio city backs pension fight: proud to stand with steelworkers

CANTON, Ohio — The City Council in this steel town last week, in a chamber packed with men and women in union caps and jackets, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the steelworkers’ fight to regain their pensions, stolen during the Bush regime.

The resolution backs Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) push for a congressional audit of the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), and calls on Congress to assure that Republic steelworkers are paid the pensions they worked their entire lives to earn.

The council also passed a resolution urging that “Buy American” provisions be maintained in any stimulus package considered by Congress.

In 2002, during the dark Bush years, RTI Inc., with steel mills in Canton, Massillon and Lorain, Ohio, shut down for one day and declared bankruptcy.

Instead of the PBGC taking over the pension plan and paying the workers their pensions, as is the marching orders of the PBGC, Bush replaced the PBGC chief and the agency deeply cut or refused to pay the RTI workers’ pensions.

The Steelworkers union (USW) organized big, militant demonstrations and filed a lawsuit, winning an order in federal court, but the PBGC refused to pay, citing lack of funds, and appealed the case to the reactionary Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati. That august body ruled that “steelworkers had no right to expect pensions to be paid.”

Since that time, Sherrod Brown, a pro-labor congressman from Lorain who was elected senator in 2006, has taken up the steelworkers’ cause. As part of an all-out fight to regain the workers’ stolen pensions, Brown is spearheading an effort to have Congress do a complete audit of the PBGC. Brown has said that an audit would “result in some of those people frog-walking out of the PBGC, on their way to jail.”

During the city council session here, the chambers were filled with men and women in USW and SOAR (Steelworker’s Organization of Active Retirees) jackets and caps, and AFSCME, IBEW and pipefitter shirts and jackets, as Massillon SOAR President Paul Santilli rose to speak in favor of the motion.

“In ’84, many of you went with us on buses to D.C. to make sure that we got what was coming to us, what we’d earned,” Santilli said. “We were successful, and I thank you for that and again today, for standing with us. Because we stood together, our communities stayed alive.”

“Now,” he continued, “instead of our government acting for us, the previous administration and the PBGC have literally stolen pensions from our widows! We figure, conservatively, that the city of Canton has lost over $46 million due to the PBGC action in stealing the pensions of steelworkers. We need to stand together and we all prosper together!”

The crowd rose in cheers as he sat back down.

In response, council President Allan Schuman said that the council members “were proud to stand with steelworkers and all unionists.” Citing the Employee Free Choice Act, Schuman noted, “There is a bill in Congress to help worker’s have rights to organize. We all support that because we know that it was the labor movement that created the middle class.”

Councilwoman Mary Cirelli, a long-time supporter of labor causes, also spoke up, saying that she was also on the buses Santilli spoke of and that she was “ready to go with steelworkers and union folks anywhere we need to go to fight for justice.”

Before adjourning the council took action praising the Patrolman’s Union for agreeing to a new contract and sat up a number of project labor agreements in areas of new building projects coming about due to incoming stimulus money.