Sherrod Brown

Marc Nozell from Merrimack, New Hampshire, USA, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m a 75-year-old steelworker, with real mobility problems from decades of hard work, especially as a steelworker. I’m living on a good, United Steel Workers (USW) negotiated pension, like thousands of my fellow steelworkers, thanks to Sherrod Brown. 

I worked at Lorain Works, USX, in Lorain, Ohio and, like thousands of my fellow steelworkers, looked forward to the day that I finally could retire, take it easy, and enjoy a decent life supported by a good Union (USW) Steelworker pension. 

Hiring, then retirements, go in large waves in steel mills as the company puts on or takes off whole “turns” of workers.” So, when I prepared to retire when I hit my 30-year anniversary in 2002, I was part of a big wave of retirements. 

It was at this time that USX mgt. decided to change their top group, change their name and challenge our union contract. Their first move was to deny their pension liability to 3,000 Republic steelworkers and their families. 

This was a bomb blast that hit all of us! At our local, 1104 in Lorain, five workers took their own lives. Jay Schroeder, the first, was the brother of William Schoeder, a young ROTC student killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State in 1970. 

An epidemic of mental health issues, domestic problems, hit us. The tax base of our city was decimated. We felt isolated, alone and abandoned. 

Sherrod Brown was our senator, previously our congressman, and had a solid pro-labor/worker history. He came to our local (USW, local 1104) in Lorain, met with our union and with hundreds of workers, explaining steps he’d already taken, plans he had to do more, but mainly, asked us what we needed. 

On the important pension issue, the company had sued to dump their entire pension liability to our members, leave us in poverty after decades of hard work in that mill. 

Sherrod stated he’d filed amicus briefs supporting our pension rights in all legal cases and raised the issue in Congress, and was working with others to draft legislation supporting pension rights. 

He came to us asking us what we needed/wanted, and what he could do. For thousands of us, we now knew we were no longer alone. 

USX fought us in court, gaining a devastating ruling before a panel of three Republican appointees at the notoriously right-wing 6th Circuit Court in Cincinnati. 

I’ll always remember the ancient judge stating that: “Steelworkers have no expectation of receiving pensions!” 

Only a corrupt appointee beholden to wealthy corporate interests could invent such language! 

That was our most devastating, depressing moment. The suicides began then. We had lost, all hope was gone. 

That was when Sherrod came again to our local, stated would continue to fight, telling us what he was doing, who our allies were and asking us what we wanted him to do. 

We discussed things, and the next week Sherrod set up ongoing daily meetings in his senatorial conference room to discuss how our remaining pensions would be paid, payment amounts, etc. He brought in representatives of the PBGC (Pension Benefits Guarantee Corp.), the federal body in charge of paying eligible retirees the amount due out of the remaining Pension Fund, in cases of corporate bankruptcies. We were also able to bring in union pension reps, workers, witnesses. 

This would be where rubber hit the road! In this scenario, however, PBCG appointees had to face actual workers, union pension representatives that knew/understood what pensions were, why, how they were negotiated, worker’s jobs, how the mill worked. 

PBGC reps knew absolutely nothing. They were suit-wearing bureaucrats that’d never set foot in any mill, knew nothing of worker’s conditions, what pensions were negotiated for, why provisions were placed in agreements, literally nothing/zero/zilch about steelworker’s jobs or lives. 

Sherrod pointed out that the company won a federal court case stating they were bankrupt, therefore required to now set forth what they could afford to pay, take that back to federal court for approval, then pay workers the pensions they were due. 

In order to do that, they had to actually come up with real numbers, ones they had to sell as realistic to federal judges, and they had to arrive at those numbers by negotiating with our union.  

Our contract has not one, but a plethora of pension plans. There is the basic “30 and out,” but also the ”percentage formula” plans, requiring complicated merging of annual income, with five highest paying years, factoring jobs they worked, tossing out any extreme low years (due to injury/illness), etc. Union officers’ pensions required factoring income of workers above/below them in pay on the best paid five years of the previous decade. 

There are Disability Plans, hardship factors plus understanding where time not worked by workers still would accrue pension liability, which would not. Craft workers pensions were different from production workers. 

In short; “You broke it! Now, you buy it!” 

We had a Pension Committee Chair (Rick Lucente) that worked to study/know these things. PBGC was young appointees that couldn’t tie their shoes. Sherrod “made available” his offices for PBGC reps to negotiate actual pension application, eligibility and payments with our Pension representatives. For over a month or so, they met, hammered out the new amounts. 

As I stated in the beginning, I’m living a decent pension, like thousands of other Republic USW steelworkers, due to Sherrod Brown’s efforts! 

Thank you Sherrod Brown! Thank you USW—Steelworker’s Union!