WARREN - Larry Thellman has 42 years on the job at RG Steel and said he still hopes he'll return to work.
Thellman and more than 200 other members of the United Steel Workers union gathered Thursday morning at Packard Music Hall to hear the details of an agreement the union has reached with Highmark Blue Cross to offer benefits to employees of the bankrupt RG Steel.
John Saunders, contract administrator for the USW, said, "When RG Steel canceled the benefits at the end of the month, they threw us into a life-changing event.''
Saunders blasted RG for forcing the union into this position but promised the leadership would do its best to make workers' woes less burdensome.
"We're gonna do everything we can to make that right from here," he said.
Workers got to ask questions of the panel and have some of their concerns put to rest.
Outside the music hall, some members spoke about what they took from the meeting and what they plan to do now.
"Get another job," said Steve Waters of Bazetta. "I just can't afford it. Even with the rate they're giving, it's either pay this, pay this or pay this, and with a family, it takes a week of the unemployment pay and we're struggling with that now."
"I don't really have I clue. I just need to think and sort things through," said Joe Lewis.
Charles J. Betters and two business partners have the bankruptcy court's blessing to purchase the plant and said he hopes to close on the deal by the end of September for $16 million. The new company is called BDM Warren Steel Holdings LLC.
A few hours after the union meeting, Betters met with workers and area officials at the Warren site to announce his intention to try to reopen the mill.
Thellman said, "They need to get a whole new team in there.''
He said he is worried about the cost of rebuilding the blast furnace, and said it'll take the right person to get the plant back up and running at full tilt.
"It's gonna take someone with deep pockets, but it'll pay for itself in the long run,'' he said.
That much he knows. What he doesn't know is what he'll do about the loss of his benefits.
During the meeting, Saunders encouraged members to explore a Voluntary Employee Benefits Association plan offered through the Wheeling, W.Va., office that provides a 72 1/2 percent government premium subsidy, and covers medical, dental, vision and pharmaceutical.
It offers both $30 and $60 deductible plans, and does not exclude anyone on the basis of pre-existing conditions. At a cost of $640, with $225.50 paid out of pocket should the employee qualify for the Health Coverage Tax Credit, Saunders said it is the cheapest and best option available. He said it also does not compete with the VEBA offered through WCI Steel.
Members can enroll anytime in the next three months.
Executive Director for the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund, Emily Woodward, also discussed the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (C.O.B.R.A.) option.
That plan will cover medical, dental and vision, but no pharmaceutical costs.
Premiums would have to be paid back to September and workers have 60 days to enroll for the plan that will cover them for 18 months unless they qualify for an extension.
Other plans were introduced, including an Anthem plan that was not endorsed by the union.
Almost all of the plans provide qualification potential for the tax credit, though some additional training or training waivers may be required and employees must register for unemployment and attend mandatory benefits rights information meetings.