Pilkington retirees zing mayor

Retirees of Pilkington North America hauled out a nearly two-year-old campaign videotape yesterday to try to shame Toledo Mayor Jack Ford into joining their fight for better retiree health benefits.

The retirees group played a videotape in which then-mayoral candidate Ford promised to be tough on any company seeking city assistance that had not been fair to its retirees.The group had an inflated chicken wearing an Uncle Sam hat to represent the mayor at the meeting in a Rossford union hall.

The group is urging the mayor not to support a $4.1 million commitment of state and city funds to help develop upscale housing on vacant Pilkington land in East Toledo. The meeting was attended by about 90 people.

In the October, 2001, videotape, Mr. Ford said the Pilkington retirees appeared to have been "sold out" and urged them to be "as mean as junkyard dogs" in fighting for their rights.

"Whoever our succeeding mayor and other politicians are, we ought to make it clear to any company that comes in and particularly that asks for tax abatement and those kinds of help, that this must never happen again," the mayor said in the stump speech.

Retirees from the British-owned glass manufacturer and its predecessor, Libbey-Owens-Ford Co., have taken Mr. Ford’s advice and are peppering elected officials with demands that they support a bill pending in Congress to force companies to provide retirees permanently with the benefits in effect when they retired.

"They’ve not kept their promises - nothing to help the retirees," Joann Schiavone, political director of the group, said.

Yesterday, Mr. Ford noted that as unhappy as the retirees are, their benefits were recently renegotiated on their behalf by a union. He said he was out of town yesterday on an economic development mission.

"I didn’t see any advantage to going there and getting my head handed to me because they’re angry at Pilkington," Mr. Ford said. "While I have urged them to be very tough, and they have been, their remedy is at the federal level, not at the city level.

"The cutback in the pensions obviously didn’t augur well for the retirees, but I believe that was bargained for," he added.

The group wants the city to withdraw its support of a plan to seek $3 million from the state and $1.1 million from the city to convert a former Pilkington parcel into upscale housing. The parcel is south of the I-75 bridge over the Maumee River.

Mr. Ford said he backs the Pilkington housing project because it would bring housing to Toledo and on the condition that Pilkington retain its administrative offices downtown.

Pilkington is negotiating a new lease for five floors of the building at 811 Madison Ave. after exploring other sites in Toledo and the suburbs.

"The role I have with Pilkington is to try to maintain their presence in Toledo," Mr. Ford said. "I should not support anyone trying to punish the company that might result in them leaving town because of the collective bargaining agreement the retirees didn’t like."

Pilkington is proposing 150 condominiums and townhouses, three small businesses, and a 30,000-square-foot office building.

The Ford administration has proposed to match any such grant with $1.1 million in city funds to provide public infrastructure, including water and sewer service, to the property.

Pilkington issued a statement yesterday saying the project will benefit the cities of Toledo and Rossford, residents, and small businesses. Pilkington defended the health agreement saying escalating health-care costs are an issue for all companies.

The retirees have been angry about reductions in their pension, health care, and prescription benefits since 1991.

Under the new negotiated benefits that went into effect April 1, retirees had to begin contributing at least $50 a month for coverage, pay a $250 deductible for prescriptions and 20 percent - up to $50 - of the cost of medicines, and give up dental coverage.

"We are now paying $85 per retiree, plus $85 per spouse and dependent out of our meager monthly pension checks for a lousy bare-bones health-care policy," said Barbara Matney, political chairman of the organization.

The retirees have formed a chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans, and they have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the United Steelworkers of America union did not fairly represent them.

Ed O’Neil, secretary of the organization, said invitations to Republican members of Congress have been ignored.

"We can’t get our representatives in this state to come to talk to us. They pass us off to an aide," Mr. O’Neil said. He said he had full dental, prescription, hospitalization, and vision coverage when he retired in 1987.

600450 Pilkington retirees zing mayor glassonweb.com

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