Views on politics and current events

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some Clarification About The NY Times Article

I've been surfing around the 'net just to see the reactions from folks about it. Just call me curious, for I've been called everything else. Let me say that the article represented what I said spot-on. Louis Uchitelle, the reporter that interviewed me is a professional all the way. As such, he only included information in the article that he deemed appropriate for the subject. There is much that went unsaid, so if I may be allowed to clarify:

* I do get a pension for my 30 years of labor in the steel mill. The PBGC took over the pension plan and my pension was reduced by 35%, but it beats having nothing at all.

* My wife is on SS disability due to a near-fatal car accident in 2001. She was not able to return to the factory work she once did for 25 years. She has no vested pension. My pension and her disability are roughly the same amount of money per month.

* The jobs my wife does includes charity work for the church and the local hospital. She does do seamstress work and baking, but only sporadically. She has also made a trip to Mississippi in Feb. to help with the aftermath of Katrina. She is not able to do much physical work, but she's a hell of a cook! She's trying to get a part-time job for some extra money, but mostly she's the type that wants to stay busy.

* I have never had anything handed to me. I come from a steel-working family of 7 kids. My father worked the mill for 41 years, and I was raised with a strong work ethic. I was taught that if you work hard and save, you can retire in relative comfort. Some people don't realize how this work ethic has changed.
I agree that Gen-Xr's have it tough. But every generation does, in one way or another.

* When the mill closed I was eligible for unemployment, but chose to retire instead. I have not collected one dime of unemployment since retiring.

* When the mill closed I was eligible for retraining money. I chose to retire instead.

* The article states I have taught at the local community college. That is not quite accurate. I work for the community development department of the college as an industrial trainer. I hold no degrees, except from the school of hard knocks. The college gave me an opportunity to train in an industrial setting based on my practical experience. This experience includes math. I am not qualified to teach accredited college courses, but everytime I get a training assignment I am evaluated. Trust me, if my evaluations weren't up to snuff, the college wouldn't hire me.

* I do most of the housework, as my wife is physically unable to do so. I'm also a hell of a cook!

* I did try for two years after the mill shut down, and did work part-time for a year as a representative for a home care business. I am at a point in my life where I am not able to do the physical labor that I used to. After 30 years in the mill, there are parts of me that are worn out. Employers looked at my age, and my former membership in a union, and said no thanks.

* I paid off my house years ago. We took out a second mortgage to assist in the payment of medical bills not covered by insurance after my wife's accident and to purchase another vehicle, as hers was totalled in the accident.

* There is so much more to life than bustin' your butt, my friends. Money is a necessity, but you would be surprised how much you can get by on if you have to, and if you want to. I got to the point where I no longer owned my possessions. They owned me. The material side of life no longer has the spell on me it once had. Even with things getting tighter financially, I know we will get by with the basics that we need. Our life is frugal, but good.

* I tried to get others in my age group to participate with the interviews, but most declined. After five years, there is still much bitterness, and some just refuse to talk about it any more. That is why I more or less volunteered to participate. Trust me, I did not agree to be interviewed to try and garner any sympathy. I know many in my area that are a hell of a lot worse off.

* I have seen the effects of the present thinking about wages and the worth of labor. All labor, blue and white collar. The notion that wealth creates jobs to my mind is putting the cart before the horse. Without labor to do the actual work, there would be no wealth. Wealth and labor should be regarded equally as valuable. The notion that you get paid what you are worth used to mean the harder you work the more you earn. Now it seems to mean whoever sets your wage is also setting your value as a human being. And especially if you can't find a good paying job that somehow it is your fault. Such is not always the case.

I have no regrets about the article. I'm glad I could be a part of bringing this issue to light. and I'm glad to see that there are some commentaries about this article that are above hastily reached judgemental conclusions. I will always be a 'working man' in my heart, and the plight of the ones that create the wealth in this country will always be first in my book.

So for the ones that choose to try and understand, I thank you. For the ones that do not, I hope you never have to go throught it. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.


Teri said...

I enjoyed the article and I've posted a few comments about it on other blogs (where I found the link to your blog). People say that we should just increase the age that folks can collect Social Security to save the system. What they don't talk about is where the jobs are that will hire older workers. I meet a lot of ex-factory workers in call centers (which makes me wonder why I needed to go back to school to get training to wind up here.)

I think that the US is going to need folks with "possum living" skills in the future. You can't continue to outsource jobs forever and not wind up with a lot of folks who can't find work.

charles whitt said...

Alan, thanks for the kind comment about my poem on the Sherry Chandler blog. I am 63 and was lucky enough to retire from AK Steel, Asland KY, (formerly Armco Steel Co.) with almost 38 years service. I too, have seen all of the ups and downs of the industry and have written a book of poems about it. It's called WORKING STEEL. Here is another poem from it.


I didn't think anything could stop
the big mills from turning, churning out miles of strip steel every day.

Then they came on the tube and said
that the economy was running away,
and raised interest rates
until no one could buy our steel.

They allowed foreigners to dump here driving prices so low that our
companies had to close down.

Mill workers accepted their fate
as graciously as possible on empty stomachs,
always hoping someday to be back.

But no one comes back from betrayal.
charlie whitt

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