Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Did the New United Steelworkers President Fail Retirees?

This week, the United Steelworkers introduced David McCall as its new president, calling him the man who “helped to restore benefits to tens of thousands of retired steelworkers.” 

However, his record tells a different story. 

In the winter of 2001, LTV Steel, a major employer in Ohio, went bankrupt. At the time, the Director of United Steelworkers District 1 was David McCall.

As the point man for the United Steelworkers in Ohio, McCall reassured the thousands of LTV retirees at risk of being left out in the cold, saying:

“We believe we’re going to be fine. The one thing we naturally want to make sure of is that there’s no negative impact on our retirees.”

But they weren’t fine. 

In early 2002, retired and laid-off LTV employees were told they would lose health care benefits, and some would even see a 50 percent reduction in their pensions. One retiree reported his pension of $2,400 per month was cut down to just $1,100. Another described the situation to reporters:

“I end up turned out in the cold—no severance pay, no health care, no life insurance, and a pension which will be cut in about half.”

With no intervention from the union, employees took matters into their own hands. Rank-and-file workers at LTV formed a Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA). The association provided them with health benefits, offering some relief from the lost coverage. 

Far from supporting this effort, the union was openly critical of the VEBA plan, suggesting it was a “scheme” that would “take advantage” of employees. It even released a statement saying, “The Steelworkers Union has had absolutely nothing to do with it.”

In the end, the tab for LTV’s pensions was picked up by the federal government

To make matters worse, McCall had the opportunity to learn from the company’s previous bankruptcy and the toll it took on workers. 

When LTV Steel filed for bankruptcy in 1986, employee insurance benefits were cut. The company was eventually bailed out by the government. When the company found itself in the same position in 2001, workers were no more prepared for the financial onslaught.  

Let’s hope he takes more care with his promises running the national union.

Categories: United Steelworkers