WARREN - A battle cry was issued by Mahoning Valley residents and city and state officials Saturday, their voices all calling out for one thing: jobs.
A large crowd of people braved the cold, dreary weather in Courthouse Square during the Rally for the Valley, their voices ringing throughout downtown Warren:
"What time is it?" "Union time!" "What do we want?" "Jobs!" "When do we want 'em?" "Now!" "Jobs now! Jobs now! Jobs now!" the crowd shouted, many holding umbrellas and some holding up signs.
The rally, sponsored by International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 84722, was held to show support of the workers of Ohio Lamp, Ravenna Lamp, RG Steel and Phillips Manufacturing plants, all of which are on shutdown or scheduled for closing.
Bidding started this week in an auction of items not needed in the steelmaking process at RG Steel.
The 100-year-old mill has been idle since May when the most recent operator, RG Steel, declared bankruptcy, leaving more than 1,000 workers jobless. In August, three partners headed by Charles J. Betters of Aliquippa, Pa., purchased the mill out of bankruptcy under an agreement that he would spend at least nine months attempting to restart it.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
April James of Warren, a GE Ohio Lamp employee, rallies with other union members Saturday in Warren.
Betters has said he will not operate the mill himself, but is searching for a new operator.
Phillips Manufacturing hired replacement workers after about 44 members of United Steelworkers Local 4564-02 went on strike Sept. 13 over what they say are unfair wages, benefits and working conditions. They had been working without a contract since Aug. 9.
General Electric announced in January it will close the facilities in Warren and Ravenna due to a decline in demand for products made at the plants. The closures will affect the jobs of more than 350 workers.
"I work for United Steelworkers Local 1375, and I'm down here to support the workers that have lost their jobs," Michelle Daniels, 58, of Niles, said.
She said she hoped for a large turnout, but her hopes dimmed when the day turned out to be cold and rainy. Still, despite the damp chill, she was happy to see the many residents who stood by her to show their support.
Former RG Steelworker Heather Anderson, 39, of Poland, officially lost her job on Aug. 31.
"I've already lost my job, I'm trying to support everyone else," she said. "We can't lose any more jobs in this area."
"There's nothing here. Nothing you can raise a family on," she said.
Area officials stood with residents to state their concerns and possible solutions for the recent loss of area manufacturing jobs. Among them were U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, state Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, and Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga.
The absence of one person was felt, and some voiced their displeasure at the lack of support.
"Where's our mayor of Warren?" asked GE worker Natasha Price, 47, of Warren. "Somebody could have taken the time to come down here and support us. They want our revenue but they don't want to support us.''
Mayor Doug Franklin was attending the funeral of one of six teens killed in an automobile accident a week ago Sunday. Services overlapped the rally.
Sen. Sherrod Brown was not able to make the rally, but he sent two representatives from his office to attend the demonstration, which also highlighted the loss of the area's sustainable-wage jobs.
"I strongly support the GE workers and stand behind their efforts to keep the Warren and Ravenna plants open. These workers are among the best at what they do. GE should bring new lighting production to these facilities so that their workers can continue to strengthen Northeast Ohio's economy and manufacturing base," he said in a statement.
Last week, Brown met with GE workers to discuss their strategy to keep lighting plants in Warren and Ravenna open and in January called on GE to seek alternatives to this plan by bringing new investments to the facilities.
Ryan mentioned Brown's efforts in his speech, which was received with claps and cheers from rally attendees.
"We've got some really good things happening here and we've got some pretty crappy things happening here," he said.
"A lot of this, in my opinion, stems from a failure of leadership. ... We have to invest back into the United States of America. That, to me, is what this is all about. Making a decision as leaders, not as Republicans or Democrats.
"We all grew up together; we all come from the same cloth. ... We have got to break the logjam and just imagine what this country will look like if we recommit ourselves to manufacturing back in the United States," Ryan said.
Ohio Lamp retiree Dave Hunter, 61, of Hubbard, said, "The people here need to understand that we have to have a place to work and retire from. If there isn't, we're in trouble as a nation."
Hunter, who worked in the field for 38 years, said the plant employed more than 1,300 people when he started there in 1970. It now employs around 200.
"I want to see a place where my children and grandchildren can retire from the way I did," he said.
One woman who showed her support of the rally also admitted it likely won't prevent the loss of area manufacturing jobs, and said hopefully it will give the younger people more information on potential opportunities.
The woman, who works for the Ravenna GE plant and asked to remain anonymous, said the problem of the loss of jobs has been a long time in the making.
"We've all seen it, everybody who works there. They haven't invested money in these plants in years," she said, explaining that ''after working long hours, doing everything that is asked of you and meeting and exceeding quotas, they still shut you down."
She said her brother lost his job at RG Steel, and when the Trumbull GE plant closed, she went to work for the Ravenna plant. She has worked for the company for 34 years.
"Where do they go from here? Where do the ones go that aren't going to get a retirement package?" she asked. "They've milked the cow, and now they're going to send it off to pasture."