Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. Craig sends us this.
Showing solidarity with our union brothers and sisters is a great way for us to ring in the New Year, says Jim Key, vice president at large of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 550 in Paducah, Ky.
Key, also his local's legislative and political chairman, is asking union members and union supporters nationwide to take a minute to put their John Hancock on a White House cyber-petition against corporations that file for bankruptcy “to circumvent their liabilities for workers' pensions and post-retirement health care benefits.” (Click here to sign the petition.)
Key warns, “The stark reality is that many unions will likely be facing the same thing in the very near future.”
The future is now, says Chris MacLarion, vice president of USW Local 9477 in Baltimore. One of his members, Eric Schindler, started the petition, using their former employer, RG Steel, as an example of corporate greed run amok.
The petition, addressed to the Obama administration, explains that in March 2011, RG Steel LLC, entered into a contract with the USW. But in June 2012, the company filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
While in bankruptcy proceedings, RG Steel asked to be permitted to pay $20 million in bonuses to 10 "key managers" to help the company "secure a buyer," the petition also says.
After the buyer was named, these managers were to be paid their salaries and other monies," including funds to purchase health insurance….Meanwhile the 2,000-plus union workers were laid off and unemployed. Their medical benefits were stopped Sept. 1, 2012. Unfortunately the insurance provider was issued an order to stop paying claims two weeks before the end date.
Union members also lost "other monies promised in the contract that was voided." The petition urges, "stop companies from rewarding bad behavior. Make them abide by the contract.”
MacLarion says his local represented some 1,850 USW members in RG Steel’s Baltimore mill—the former Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel works—and about 150 more in amalgamated units that serviced the factory. MacLarion says:
RG Steel’s demise has left all of them without jobs, while the management group made a grab at $20 million in bonuses. While that grab at the money proved futile, as the judge rejected their attempt, they nonetheless were able to secure another set of bonuses and pay under a second motion.
While this was a much smaller amount it is still appalling that the same people who ran the company into the ground were able to take payments of three-quarters of $1 million. That money would have been better served paying the medical bills that our members were stuck holding the tab for.
MacLarion says he and the members of his union liken the RG Steel bonus grab to paying the captain of the Titanic a bonus for hitting the iceberg while managing to keep his ship afloat for nearly three hours afterward.
RG Steel’s actions, says MacLarion, also devastated USW members in the company’s Warren, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va., mills. "They were part of the bankruptcy. All in all, I'd say roughly 5,000-plus USW members lost out in the RG Steel bankruptcy.”
Meanwhile, Key has gained the support of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, which represents AFL-CIO-affiliated unions in the Bluegrass State’s 13 westernmost counties. Key is a recently elected council trustee.
“We all need to sign this petition," said Jeff Wiggins, council president and president of Steelworkers Local 9447 in nearby Calvert City, Ky.
This is not just a Steelworker issue. This is an issue that affects all union members, retirees and members still working, and our families. It’s happening all over the country. You work hard for a company all of your life, retire with dignity and the company ends up trying to cheat you of what should be rightfully yours. It’s greed, pure and simple.
Click here to sign the petition.