STEUBENVILLE - Carmina Blankenship says being out of work and out of benefits isn't where she expected to be after a combined 34 years on the job with the now-defunct RG Steel and its forerunners, Severstal NA, Esmark and, of course, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
"You know what makes it double scary?" asks Blankenship, who until recently worked for the now-defunct RG Steel at the Follansbee coke plant. "My husband works for them, too. We're both in the same boat."
RG Steel, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 31, began liquidating its steel operations in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland a few weeks ago. The Mingo Junction operation sold at auction for $20 million to Frontier Industrial, a New York-based company that specializes in salvage and brownfield development, though the company has said some parts of the operation, which includes a $250 million electric arc furnace as well as a continuous caster and 80-inch hot strip mill, may be spared.
RG Steel's Yorkville plant sold for roughly $5 million to Sewickley, Pa.-based Esmark Inc., which previously owned Wheeling-Pitt, and its partner, South Korea's TCC Steel. Esmark also acquired RG Steel's 50 percent ownership stake in Ohio Coatings. The company's Martins Ferry plant sold to Wheeling businessman W. Quay Mull for $2 million, while RG's Warren operation was sold to a Pennsylvania salvage company for $17 million, and its Sparrows Point, Md., plant brought $72 million from Hilco Industrial. The 100-acre Steubenville plant, meanwhile, was sold in June to River Rail Development, part of Wheeling-based scrap dealer Herman Strauss Co.
So far, no buyer has emerged for RG Steel's 50 percent ownership stake in Mountain State Carbon, the Follansbee coke-making plant where Blankenship works. Mountain State Carbon is a joint venture with Severstal.
Blankenship, a Steubenville resident, was one of a handful of out-of-work steelworkers at a recent meeting designed to help them figure out what to do with their 401(k)s, even as the United Steelworkers of America scrambles to find its RG Steel members, who number several thousand, affordable health care coverage. While the USW is trying to secure stop-gap help for the workers, some private insurers are trying to sell RG Steel's former employees on other coverage options. One of them, Cone Insurance Group, has scheduled informational meetings today through noon and again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Florian Hall in Wintersville to talk about options through their company. Cone has group plans that qualify for the Health Coverage Tax Credit through the use of a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association Trust.
Blankenship, meanwhile, said she's not sure what she and her husband will do, conceding it's a "nerve-racking" position to be in after more than three decades on the job.
"I never expected this at this stage of my life, that I'd totally lose any hope of a job out there," she said, adding that her husband, who worked for 35 years at the Mingo Junction plant, "has been going online, looking for quotes, trying to see if there's anything affordable out there."
"I never expected this, to be without insurance or a job," adds Blankenship, who figures she'll have to dust off a teaching degree she earned years ago and sign up to do substitute teaching. "I don't know what else to do. My certification has expired, I'll have to find out about that, and it won't give us health benefits, but it will help."
But, as bad as their situation is, Blankenship said she and her husband "are pretty lucky, overall, considering the people who have health problems."