WEIRTON - Jay Rockefeller returned Monday afternoon to the community he fostered and guided through the historic purchase of a steel mill by the employees that saw the creation of the largest Employee Stock Ownership Plan in the country.
"I came here early today to spend a little extra time in Weirton. I drove around the streets of Weirton and saw many of the same stores and the same meeting halls that were here in the early 1980s when we worked hard to save Weirton Steel. I saw the same porches where I sat with steelworkers and their families when we were trying to save the mill in the early 1980s," Rockefeller stated during a 90-minute event at the Serbian-American Cultural Center that saw the senior U.S. senator from West Virginia receive the Lifetime Achievement award from the United Steelworkers and the "Man of Steel" award from the Cold Finished Bar Institute.
Approximately 150 members of the USW, the United Mine Workers of America and the Communications Workers of America along with local officials filled the room to applaud Rockefeller as he prepares to retire from public office.
PASSING OF THE GAVEL — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, left, discussed the leadership of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, center, Monday afternoon during a ceremony lauding Rockefeller for his support of steelworkers in West Virginia. Rockefeller, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, announced Monday Brown now will serve as chairman of the Senate Steel Caucus. Listening to Brown make his comments was United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard. -- Dave Gossett
"A lot has changed in Weirton since the 1980s. A lot has changed for the good and a lot has changed for the worse. But I remember fighting back then to make sure Weirton Steel would continue to exist and we were successful when the vote on purchasing the mill was overwhelmingly approved by the employees. I remember standing at the Millsop Community Center that night when the vote was announced and we knew we had save thousands of steelworker jobs. Those are the memories that bind us together," said Rockefeller.
Rockefeller said the nearly two-year campaign to create an employee-owned steel mill was worth all of the hard work.
"The union was able to put their own people on the company board of directors and the financial books were opened to all of the employees. And we extended the life of the mill that National Steel wanted to close. When the vote results were announced that night in Weirton I was extremely proud and excited," related Rockefeller.
"You can't just dip your toe in steel. You have to go through the losses and sacrifices and then the successes. I think about the people of this community all of the time and your life story. We extended the life of Weirton Steel for another two decades when we helped create the ESOP. And when the steelworkers came to Washington, D.C., for the rallies, the man in the White House heard your voices," continued Rockefeller.
"Working on behalf of the Northern Panhandle and all steelworkers around West Virginia has been among my greatest honors. And I will continue to do everything possible to protect steelworkers in the future. There is no community like a steelworker community. People will give up everything to help their neighbors and save jobs. Steel communities are worth all of the fighting and all of the effort. And this community is worth it," noted Rockefeller.
"We have incredible people here who think of Weirton as their home. I thank you for letting me be part of your life and for being such an enormous factor in my life," Rockefeller added.
Mark Glyptis was a laid off steelworker when the ESOP was being created.
"I remember Gov. Rockefeller coming to Weirton and he sent his staff here to work with the steelworkers union to buy the steel mill and save jobs. Later on when I became president of the union, Jay Rockefeller was crucial when we went to Washington, D.C., to testify on illegal steel imports. And I still remember Senator Rockefeller sitting front and center at our Save Our Steel rally on the steps of the Capitol," said Glyptis, president of Local 2911.
"I am very proud to have worked with Jay Rockefeller because he has been a true friend to all steelworkers in Weirton. He literally helped save our mill and our jobs," added Glyptis.
Rockefeller used the afternoon to announce U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would be the new chairman of the Senate Steel Caucus. "The future is good with Sherrod," said Rockefeller.
"No one is more important to have on their side than Jay Rockefeller. Jay is a good listener who then takes his message to other senators. And Jay has also helped military veterans and kids during his Senate career. I am very proud he has chosen me to run the steel caucus," remarked Brown.
"We don't have national security or family security if we don't have a vibrant steel industry, If we can maintain a level playing field we can win," Brown stated.
According to USW International President Leo Gerard, "It's hard to imagine a public servant more committed to the well-being of American workers and to the creation and preservation of good, family-supporting manufacturing jobs than our friend, Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Sen. Rockefeller has been there for us since his first day in public office. When the steel industry was facing devastation from unfair trade, when steelworkers and their communities were struggling with the threat of job losses, Sen. Rockefeller always stood with us."
"As he prepares to leave public service and hand over the chair of the Senate Steel Caucus to another champion of working people, we are privileged to stand with him. Sen. Rockefeller is leaving us with a legacy of distinguished service and bold leadership, and he will be sorely missed," said Gerard.
"U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who will be taking over Senator Rockefeller's post as chair of the Steel Caucus, has big shoes to fill in that role. But we know that he, just like Sen. Rockefeller, has a proven track record of standing up for good jobs and American manufacturing, and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with him and with the entire Senate Steel Caucus," said Gerard.
(Gossett can be contacted at email@example.com)