WEIRTON - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he took a little extra time to drive around Weirton while visiting the city Monday, looking back at previous visits over the decades, first as West Virginia's governor and then as a representative to the U.S. Senate.
"I drove around a little, and my memory bank was wide open," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said to a crowd of steel workers, mine workers and many others gathered at the Serbian-American Cultural Center. "These are memories that bind us together."
The experiences which crafted those memories, fighting alongside the local labor force to stand up for steel, is what brought Rockefeller back for what could be his final visit to the Northern Panhandle while in office. Rockefeller previously announced plans to not seek re-election this year.
Surrounded by old friends and many supporters, Rockefeller was honored Monday with the United Steelworkers' Lifetime Achievement Award and the "Man of Steel" award from the Cold Finished Steel Bar Institute.
USW President Leo Gerard noted Rockefeller's work over the years fighting on behalf of the steel industry, even in the face of numerous difficulties and obstacles.
While there were many defeats in the battle, he said, including the loss of thousands of steel jobs, those fights provided some opportunity for the steel industry to restructure instead of completely disappearing from the nation.
MEETS WITH AREA RESIDENTS — U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., meets with area residents and officials Monday after being honored by the United Steelworkers and the Cold Finished Steel Bar Institute at the Serbian-American Cultural Center in Weirton. -- Craig Howell
"I don't know that there is a steelworker in American that doesn't owe their job to Jay Rockefeller," Gerard said.
Michael Salamon, executive vice president of the Cold Finished Steel Bar Institute, noted many of those battles would not have been possible without Rockefeller's leadership and the formation of the Steel Caucus in Congress.
In the face of unfair trade dealings from other nations, he said, Rockefeller stuck with the domestic steel industry and stood side-by-side with steel workers.
"Few members of Congress have been as tenacious on their behalf as Senator Rockefeller," Salamon said.
Among those battles was the crafting of the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which allowed Weirton Steel to continue operations, supporting tariffs on foreign steel and supporting a Trade Adjustment Assistance program which provides billions of dollars in job training and financial assistance to workers harmed by unfair trade.
Rockefeller recognized many of those who have fought those battles by his side, including Mark Glyptis, president of the USW Local 2911, Jim Bowen and others who he said have never backed down from fighting on behalf of the steel industry, whether it be in Weirton or Washington, D.C.
"That's what this is all about," Rockefeller said. "We've always been a ferocious team. We do not mess around. We step on people who get in our way."
Those assembled also pledged to continue their fight on behalf of steelworkers in the U.S. and to work with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has been selected to lead the Steel Caucus in the years ahead.
"The future is good with Sherrod," Rockefeller said.
For his part, Brown thanked Rockefeller for his guidance and friendship, and pledged to continue working on behalf of the nation's steel industry.
(Howell can be contacted at email@example.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)