Even after losing their jobs just a few weeks ago, Ormet employees realized their struggles could get worse as health insurance benefits were taken away this past Friday. Employees were informed of this loss through a letter dated Oct. 23, just two days prior to the loss.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed his disappointment in a statement given to the Wetzel Chronicle on Monday. "First and foremost, I want to apologize to each and every one of the hardworking people in the Ohio Valley who have been affected by Ormet closing its doors," Senator Manchin said. "With that being said, I cannot express how disappointed I am to learn that Ormet also may not be able to provide health care coverage to employees and their families. It's simply unacceptable and unfair to terminate the benefits these employees have earned and deserve. My office stands ready to assist the workers and their families and I will do my best to make sure the promises that have been made to all hardworking Americans are kept. In addition, I will continue to work on policies that promote economic development and job growth."
The office of Ohio State Senator Lou Gentile was also in contact with the Chronicle. Although Gentile was out of the area over the weekend, his office spoke out to his constituents, as well as posting the following Facebook message on his Facebook page: "If you or someone you know has questions or needs assistance related to the closure of Ormet, please contact my Senate office at 614-466-6508 or via email at SD30@ohiosenate.gov. I want to make sure your concerns are addressed appropriately. My office is available to help you through this process. Thank you."
Despite the months-long struggle, and various statements put out by local politicians and public stakeholders in support of the aluminum plant, very few words have been heard from the true faces of Ormet-the hardworking men and women whose lives are undoubtedly affected by the shutdown and now, the loss of health insurance. The Wetzel Chronicle has had many articles on the plant's situation in the past several months, but this week, we decided to let the employees tell the story themselves-how Ormet has been a part of, most of their, lives for decades; and how they will continue fighting for it to stay that way for the next several.
"Ormet has been there as long as I remember," said Lacy Starr. "My father (Todd Tucker) has worked there for 25 years and missed very few sick days. My dad was kind enough to give my husband (Chas Starr) a blue slip after the strike, and luckily enough, he passed everything and was hired in, so we are hit hard throughout the whole family."
She added: "Ormet provided for me throughout my childhood. I always was proud to say my dad worked for Ormet and was a hard, dedicated worker!"
Starr said she is not so worried for herself because it is easier for her family to start new, because they are young. However, Starr is worried for her father who "gave 25 years and has to start all over at 51."
"The loss of insurance also hits him hard," she said. My dad is a diabetic and medications alone will cost him well over $2,000 a month. That doesn't even include other medications both of my parents are on."
Concluding, Starr stated, "I'm keeping all families in my thoughts and prayers! Fight for Ormet!"
Jeanne Ingold stated that her husband has worked at Ormet for 36 years. "We've been through lay-offs," she said, "one for 27 months, and we had a small baby at the time."
"We have also been through strikes," she added. "One for 24 months . . .You learn what is important and what you can live without, but this situation is very different and very scary."
"The Ormet men and women are strong and will stick together to do what they can to get back to work," Ingold said. "I have been listening to comments made by workers and all they want is to get back to work."
As for the upcoming holiday season, she noted: "Christmas may be a little different, but we will be with family, so who needs more than that?"
Jay Rohal describes Ormet as being "like the old Hank Jr. song, 'A Family Tradition!'"
Rohal explained that his grandfather worked for the iron workers and helped build the plant. "He then put 32 long years in at the plant he built." Rohal said his uncle then came to the plant next, working 35 years. "Ten of those years I worked with him," Rohal noted.
That was not the end of the family ties at Ormet though, as Rohal continued: "My sister-in-law was next in line; she hired in right out of high school in 1989. Then, it was my turn in 1996. For the first 60 days, I finished my shift and said I won't be back!" However, Rohal said, he knew if he wanted to provide with his family, he would return for another eight- or 16-hour shift.
"Then in 2008, my brother hired into Ormet. He later went on to another job."
"For over 60 years, Ormet has provided my family with a good living," Rohal said. "This time things are different though, but one thing about Ormet workers and that old Hank Jr. song, we will make it through this because it's just 'an old family tradition!'"
"This is one tough situation for me," said Brad Cecil. "Ormet is all I have known for the last 17 years, and now, to lose it and the healthcare for my son is devastating."
Cecil said Christmas Club checks were mailed to employees the week they were let go; however, Cecil added: "It's almost gone, and now we are waiting on unemployment checks." "There will be little Christmas around a lot of Ormet employee homes this year, and that's very sad."
Cecil said when the union battled Emmet Boyle during a strike, he was the first to be thrown in jail, even with the holidays fast approaching. "Then a bunch of my fellow employees followed," he noted.
"However, this is so different now," Cecil said. "We now stand side by side with a company that wants to ensure we have jobs . . . And now it's another company (AEP) and greedy politician (Kasich) that's appointed four of the five members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to their jobs and is putting us out of business."
Cecil said it's hard to make it if a company is angry that you won't need them much in the future, speaking of Ormet's plans to build a natural gas generated power plant in the future. However, Cecil noted that it ensures Ormet from having to deal with the electricity problem ever again.
Randy Blaney said the shutdown has affected himself and his family financially because he has a daughter in college and "other numerous bills like everyone else."
Blaney said that although Ormet is a good job with benefits, if a person still has a mortgage, vehicle payment, kids and college and other normal expenses, money was "pretty tight already."
Blaney noted that the shutdown is also hard on his family emotionally, as they don't know what the future holds. "Even though (workers) might portray a 'It'll be okay' attitude toward our family to put their minds at ease, finances, and uncertainty are always in my thoughts."
Anger also plays a role, according to Blaney, as he said the shutdown could have been avoided "if not for the greed of a huge billion dollar public utility (AEP) and the lack of concern from certain politicians, namely Governor Kasich."
Blaney said the talk of assistance and retraining and help with resumes can also spark a bit of anger. "Even though we appreciate those that are extending a helping hand, we are not looking for handouts," Blaney emphasized. "We want AEP, PUCO, and our elected officials to do their job and try to resolve this situation and get Ormet workers back on the job where they belong."
He added that he believes the future of aluminum price projections are good "if we are just given the chance to survive and build our own power supply so we can be profitable."
"Isn't the main talking point of our governor, jobs?" Blaney said. "Let's try to save the jobs that are already here and in place."
Ronnie Durrah is worried about the possibility of breaking promises he made to his kids.
"On Oct. 7 I closed on a house in West Virginia. I had told my boys that we would move close to their school and friends when they turned 18," he said.
Durrah, who had been at Ormet for 18 years, lost his job on the 11th. "The boys turn 14 on November 9th," he said. "We are in West Virginia now, but I'm not sure what kind of life we will have, let alone Christmas. God willing, at least we will be happy."
Durrah added that himself and other Ormet employees have paid into the system for years while watching people abuse the system. "Now that we try to fall back on some of the assistance, we get treated like the bad guy."
Raymond Michael Wright, who has 34 years in at Ormet, focuses on the politics of the issue. Wright noted that he has never been a fan of the Ormet management since the early 1980s. "I think what most are missing about all of this, is that it has more to do with politics across our country as a whole-jobs, healthcare, retirement . . . basically the corporations of this country are writing checks the rest of us have to cash, along with many new laws that cripple the dedicated workforce of this country." Wright said that if politics do not change very soon . . . I'm afraid our democracy is doomed." He added, "I will remain positive that a leader will come forth and make this country the proud working nation it was so many years ago."
"My husband has been the sole supporter of our family since I had an accident five years ago," Lorie Staley reported. "My husband has supported his three children plus my three children on Ormet wages. He loves his job and has spent 37 years of his life there, and most of the health insurance was covering four of our children."
Staley said every time Ormet faced a battle, for instance a strike, her family would stand on the picket lane. She added that her father-in-law also retired from Ormet; unfortunately, right before Ormet's shutdown, her father-in-law passed away on Sept. 23. "My husband is 55 years old and will be turning 56 next month. And now he is very depressed because he says who will hire an old man . . . Yet he can't afford to support the family on retirement."
Marty Wallace reported that he has been a supervisor at Ormet for approximately 17 years. "I was at the rolling mill and went through the shut down there and losing my job," he noted.
"I pray to God each and everyday," Wallace said. "He sustains my faith and attitude. I trust He has this in His hands."