The Guardian 27 July, 2005
US: Ormet workers fight
for jobs and retirees’ health care
WOODSFIELD, Ohio: For eight months now, 1300 steelworkers and their families in this rural area along the Ohio River have been courageously holding the line. In November, a bankruptcy court gave the go-ahead to Ormet Corp to dump retirees’ health care and implement a wage-cutting package. Since then, Steelworkers Locals 5724 and 5760 have had picket lines up in an unfair labour practices strike.
"We’re fighting for our jobs and our living standards against a vicious corporate raider, for dignity for our retirees", said Ron Blatt, Local 5724 grievance chair.
Blatt said steelworker retirees are now being forced to pay an average of US$750 a month for their health care. Their contract had guaranteed them health care at no cost. "I’ve seen retirees come in here crying, not having anything left after health care is taken from their cheques", he said. "But these folks are tough. The retirees are a real backbone of our struggle."
Ormet has brought in "around 40 or 50 scabs", said Blatt. "That’s really pathetic. The thing we’re most proud of is that no [union member] has crossed the picket line — we’re 100 percent solid!"
Blatt said women have played a key role in the strike. One of those women leaders is Judy McCourt, a 27-year steelworker who heads the local’s Strike and Defense Committee. "Support has been tremendous, both within the local and the community", McCourt said. She cited a petition supporting the union which was signed by every county commissioner in the surrounding seven-county area. "Folks from the community come in all the time to help. One lady from West Virginia even brought in Easter baskets for the kids."
South African unions staged a huge rally supporting the Ormet strikers, and even picketed the school reunion of Ormet owner Mark Patterson, who is South African. "We really want to thank the South African unions", Blatt said.
While the Ormet strikers’ morale is extremely high, "We still need help", said McCourt.
Statements of support can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
Bruce Bostick works on special projects for the United Steel Workers. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
People’s Weekly World