Canton Repository

January 29, 2003

Massillon Steelworkers in D.C. 

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — Two Ohio Steelworkers drove all the way to the nation’s capital to hear the State of the Union address live Tuesday, but not the one you might think.

Instead, Robert Fothergill and David McCune, both of Massillon, came in for a much different report on the condition of the nation from some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

Forget about the view from the White House. This “alternative State of the Union,” a Democrat-sponsored event held prior to the real address delivered by President Bush, was full of criticism of the president.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland, and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, slammed Bush for pushing the nation toward what they called an unnecessary war with Iraq and promoting economic policies they said favor the rich.

“The number of Americans without jobs is greater than it was a year ago,” Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., told the 50 or so who attended the event. “The number of Americans without health care is greater than it was a year ago.”

As laid-off steelworkers, Fothergill and McCune served as examples of what the progressives were complaining about.

Fothergill, president of Local 1124 of the United Steelworkers, attended the event to “bring a human face to the problems American workers face today in this economy,” he said.

Fothergill and McCune are among more than 90 Ohioans who lost their jobs when Massillon Stainless, a manufacturer of stainless steel sheet, closed in September.

Like their Democratic lawmaker hosts, the two steelworkers blame Bush for the weakened economy.

“Shortly after the Bush administration took over, the economy started to go south,” said McCune, president of Local 1124.

In addition to showing support for the Democrats, Fothergill and McCune said they hoped to draw attention to their efforts to find a buyer who would reopen the plant and restore their jobs.

“There are not buyers out there because of the economy,” Fothergill said. “We’re looking for buyers, and it seems like in these economic times they’re afraid to look at us.”

The India-based owner of Massillon Stainless, Jindal Strips Ltd., has given workers until the end of March to find someone willing to buy the operation and give it another go.

In a feasibility study commissioned by laid-off employees of the plant, Locker Associates, a New York consulting firm, blamed the company’s problems on its difficulty getting the hot rolled steel sheet it needs to make its products.

U.S.-based steel makers have been “reluctant” to sell hot rolled steel to the company, while “sourcing from abroad also proved difficult primarily due to U.S. import restrictions, logistical bottlenecks and credit limitations,” the consultant said.

Locker Associates also found pluses at Massillon Stainless, however, and concluded that an investor who put some money into the operation could make a profit by reopening the plant.