FOLLANSBEE - Federal lawmakers are seeking to help laid-off steel workers retain their health care benefits following RG Steel's decision last week to furlough 175 workers at its coke plant in Follansbee.
U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both D-Md., in sending letters to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman. These letters ask them to make sure eligible RG Steel employees and retirees receive benefits to help them seek new employment and have access to affordable health coverage during their layoff.
United Steelworkers of America Local 1190 President Ernie Gambellin said Thursday the 175 workers were furloughed at the Mountain State Carbon coke plant in Follansbee, a joint venture between bankrupt RG and Severstal NA. Three batteries in what's referred to as the "old block" at the coke plant were hot-idled last week, a process Gambellin previously said means they can be restarted when and if conditions warrant.
RG Steel sought protection from its creditors on May 31. Despite the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, Gambellin said the newly laid-off workers are entitled to sub-pay.
Mountain State Carbon was RG's second-largest unsecured creditor at $22.4 million. It provides 600,000 tons of coke annually to RG's Warren, Ohio, steel mill.
The senators have been working to make sure eligible employees and retirees receive Trade Adjustment Assistance and Health Care Tax Credit benefits.
The TAA program ensures workers who lose their jobs as a result of outsourcing to foreign countries are provided with training and financial assistance to transition to new employment. The HCTC, which is part of the TAA program, makes health insurance coverage more affordable for workers who lose their jobs due to trade and for retirees who receive pension payments through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.