They do some of the toughest, hottest and dirtiest jobs anywhere on the planet, but tonight hundreds of steelworkers learned that they will be losing their health benefits -- soon.
The massive steelmaking plant at Sparrows Point has been idle for months; union workers met Monday night to hear about the loss of their benefits.
The line to get in to the United Steelworkers Hall wrapped around the building.
“It's huge,” said steelworker Shaun Abshire. “If my kids are hurt I have to take them to the doctor. If I have to pay that out of my own pocket that's going to hurt, especially if I don't have any money coming in.”
And there may not be money coming in. The massive plant in Southeastern Baltimore County has been idle since May, when the current owner, RG Steel, filed for bankruptcy.
“I'm praying for the men to keep their jobs. I lost my husband at 52 years old due to the asbestos out of that plant. In other words, the only people that could work there are the people that do work there,” said steelworker Candice Maxwell.
Earlier this month the Hilco company purchased the plant at a bankruptcy auction.
Hilco is best known not for making steel, but for liquidating assets -- if that happens at Sparrows Point, the concern is for the steelworkers -- but also for the hundreds of other local businesses that depend on it.
“The trickle down effect on this, no one's going to see it. It may take a year or two. But these men and women are going to lose homes. It's not just the 2000 men and woman that work down at RG Steel,” said Alice Lambert, who runs the BMore industrial services company along with her husband.
The head of the union representing the steelworkers, Joe Rosel, is calling this the War of 2012. He describes the Hilco purchase as a lost battle -- but he says, the war isn't over yet. “They didn't call superman the man of aluminum. He's called the man of steel,” Rosel said.
And he claims to be contact with other firms that could buy the plant from Hilco -- and get Sparrows Point up and running.
“We're tough. We're in a tough business and we're tough people and we know how to survive. And we'll survive this,” Rosel said.
The health benefits are set to expire on August 31st. Rosel says he's working to ensure a "seamless" transition into other programs like COBRA for those steelworkers.
He says if the state can step in to help the horse racing industry by allowing the construction of casinos, it should also be able to step in to do something for them.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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