Wheeling Spoken History Project: Mark Uraco
▼ Interview with Mark Uraco
Title: Coordinator for the Blaw-Knox Retraining Grant
[ Date: May 5, 1995; Interview #: 96-019 ]
GORDON SWARTZ: To get started, I would like you to tell me your name, your position, and the date. That way I'll have all that on the tape.
MARK URACO: My name is Mark Uraco. My title is coordinator for the Blaw-Knox Grant. Today is May 5, 1995.
GS: Usually, we like to get a little personal background. We'll just sit and talk, if it's okay.
MU: Okay, sure.
GS: How you came here. Tell me about Blaw-Knox. Whatever you want.
MU: I started at Blaw-Knox in 1977. I worked there for four years, and I got laid off. From there, I went to Marshall University and got an Associate Degree in Occupational Safety and Health. From there, I went to Detroit, Michigan, and worked in the Chrysler Defense Plant for Blaw-Knox one summer and got laid off again. I went to WVU, got my Bachelor's Degree in General Studies, went on for my Master's Degree in Safety Management. My last semester in graduate school down at WVU, I ran out of funds, and I had to return to work. So I worked midnights at Blaw-Knox. From there, I returned to Blaw-Knox for a few months, and then I took a job with Masonite Personnel and Safety in New Philadelphia, Ohio. From there, I returned back to Blaw-Knox. I worked there off and on for almost seventeen years. Two years ago, in 1992, I was laid off. One summer in graduate school I worked for the Bureau of Employment Programs for the Governor's Operations as a supervisor for one of their summer youth programs. When I got laid off, I went to Northern one semester, and then I was offered this position here as a coordinator for this grant, and that's how I, basically, got the job. (33)
GS: Maybe go a little further back. You said you were born and raised in this area.
MU: Right. Right. I was born and raised in Wheeling.
GS: You mentioned the grant. What grant are you under? I know it's different than Shoemaker, I'm sure.
MU: The mines are underneath the Clean Air Act.
MU: Blaw-Knox is a JTPA. It's a National Reserve Grant. It's just phrased a little bit differently than the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act was due to a federal regulation which forced miners out of employment due to the high sulfur coal due to air regulations. Blaw-Knox is just a National Reserve Grant which is, the Clean Air is a National Reserve Grant also, but it's just a job training partnership act underneath the Clean Air, or excuse me, underneath the National Reserve Grant. (45)
GS: How did Blaw-Knox qualify for this? I mean, other factories lay off, and all of them don't get it.
MU: Well, you have to have a certain number of individuals laid off. Then you have to apply for the grant.
GS: Getting that application in is trouble. At least it was in our situation.
MU: You have to submit an application through the grant officer who is in with the U.S. Department of Labor.
GS: How many people from Blaw-Knox took advantage of this, or do you know? (51)
MU: There was 132 to begin with, and I counted the other day, and I think it's down to, give or take one or two, it's about 105 left in the program. It started out at Northern about 130. It's down to like 78 or 80 now. There's, I believe, 15 at Belmont Tech. There's four at West Liberty College. There's, I believe, five at Wheeling College. There's two at Ohio University, Belmont. One's at Belmont Branch, the O.U. Branch, and one's out in New Athens. And, then, there has been five individuals who went through the truck driver training which was covered also underneath the program. So, all total, about 105 people left in the program, and it started out probably 140-some.
GS: The one's that aren't left, most of them have finished it?
MU: Well, there's five that went through truck driver training finished. There's been several others who dropped out of the program, and the majority of them all have found jobs that dropped out. And, I believe, a few of them got jobs from either going here to get a little extra training, because there's been one that just got hired recently down at Ormet.
GS: Okay. I'm not really familiar with Blaw-Knox. Could you tell me a little bit about Blaw-Knox. (74)
MU: They produced iron and steel rolls for various type rolling mills. Our large suppliers were Wheeling-Pitt, Weirton Steel, U.S. Steel, Allegheny ( ), Tele-Dyne, they supplied some rolls to, various companies all over the country. They have a patent on the largest steel roll made, and, basically, that's what they did. The rolling mills, of course, you know, they're just like a bunch of rolling pins that's set up on a mill, and the metal goes over top of that.
GS: Did you work in the factory? Or did you work in the office?
MU: I worked in the factory. I was a ladleman, and then I was a molder. I worked in the Vertical Spincast Department which is how they spun the rolls. They poured into a roll that was spinning.
GS: Why did everybody get laid off?
MU: A lot of it was politics. Blaw-Knox used to be owned by White Consolidated Industries. They had plants in East Chicago, they had one in Pittsburgh, they had Wheeling, they had Warwood Plant. All the other plants closed down. They had retirees, the pension was bankrupt. Blaw-Knox was the last one, the Wheeling works. They closed Warwood several years ago, and then Wheeling was the last one open. They had orders, as far as I know, they had a lot of orders. They were making money. I don't think anybody will ever know what really happened, but the person who bought the place was a Blaw-Knox competitor. So the other mill that produced iron and steel rolls more or less bought out Blaw-Knox. (102)
GS: Did they have a gradual downturn, or did they just lay everybody off at once?
MU: I was laid off on a Friday. I wasn't laid off per se, you know. Friday was my last day. I went in there, and I worked. As a matter of fact, I worked twelve hours that day. That was it. I think that was October 20, I believe.
GS: Of what year?
MU: I think '92. Let's see. Yeah, it was '92. What happened, the spinner broke down, and they had to order parts for it, and that was it.
GS: Just wouldn't do it?
MU: Well, I don't know what happened, basically, to be honest with you. I can give you a bunch of hearsay answers. Basically, they just wanted to be shut down. (112)
GS: I understand. I worked for a big corporation.
MU: But that was it. They kept maintenance around for a couple more months, and that was it.
GS: What kind of benefits are the people getting here. Is it the same as ours?
MU: Well, yeah, basically. What Blaw-Knox is getting is whatever they received on their unemployment. Some are getting $280, some are getting $220, $190. Whatever they were receiving on unemployment. This grant is set up on individual only, which means if you were working for Blaw-Knox, it's just based on solely your income only, where the Clean Air Act is based on a family income. (120)
GS: Yes. I have a big family, so I get more income.
MU: Right. But, also, if your wife was working, you had a bunch of kids working, you get less. So there's good and bad with it, too. This grant, I think it was a blessing for the people of Blaw-Knox. It was a blessing. Also, they get supportive services, which means they get gas mileage to and from. If they have a night class, they get paid twice. They also, if they're in school for longer than three, excuse me, longer than four hours a day, they get lunch money, which is $3.00 a day.
GS: How long does this last?
MU: This grant will be over June 30th of '96.
GS: So, from the beginning to the end.
MU: Two years. It's a two-year grant. (131)
GS: Two-year grant. That's the same as us.
MU: It runs from July 1st to June 30th, the program here. And this grant is a one-time, you apply for it one time, one time only. It's not an entitlement grant, which means it doesn't just keep rolling over year after year after year. You apply for it one time. It lasts two years, and that's it. After a two-year period, it's considered a closeout. The grant's over. Now, however, you could apply for an extension, but that extension would only be applied to, for instance, if Blaw-Knox had fifty to a hundred people left working there, you could apply for an extension that would cover them people if they were getting laid off, but it would not extend any benefits toward the group that's already here.
GS: Okay. That's very similar to what we have.
MU: Right. They're very similar in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways, there's just some difference, procedures and policies that make them different. (147)
GS: Who applied for the grant? Did the union apply for it? Did a group apply for it, or how did it come into effect?
MU: I heard two different versions of it. I really never inquired who applied for it, but I heard one group did. I heard the machinists applied for it. There was two different unions in that plant. Basically, there was three. There was machinists, steelworkers, and clerical. I heard the machinists applied for it, and then I heard the steelworkers applied for it.
GS: But there was really not much trouble getting it once they applied?
MU: As far as I know, there wasn't. There was just a lot of details that needed worked out, and it all came so fast.
GS: We did have some difficulties here and there.
MU: This all happened within a couple weeks, you know. (157)
GS: Yeah, they do put you on a time line. Did they? They did us. You only have thirteen weeks.
MU: Right. You have thirteen weeks after your initial unemployment date to sign up for this. Everybody knew within a couple weeks the deadline was July 1st. I think school started on July 5th, but then they extended it until the 7th and then they extended it again until the 13th, just because there was so much confusion and what not. It's basically set up the same way yours was. You had to get certified. You had to get JTPA certified, do your testing, go through the case management system, and then you had to be enrolled in school by the end of that 13th week.
GS: Your job is with Blaw-Knox. You don't have anything to do with any of Windsor?
MU: No. I mean, I know a few guys like Bobby Riggle or Rich Riggle. There's a few of them that I know just from seeing them everyday, and they ask me questions. If I know it, I answer them. If I don't, I refer them to someone in Charleston. (173)
GS: Earlier you said that this was a "blessing." Are these people going to end up with jobs, do you believe? It's a blessing in what way, in that it's helping them survive now, or in the future?
MU: It's a blessing. Yeah. It's helping them to survive. The majority of them, when this program started, their unemployment was exhausted. They had nothing. They was getting nothing. You know, they got into the program. They got $280 a week. You know, they got a chance to go to school, to further their education. I think it kept their mind occupied. It's making everybody just a little bit more sharper. It's helping them, you know. The only thing this can do is help them. It won't hurt them. Will they get jobs? I don't know. I don't know. If you want to leave the area, I think they'll have a greater chance of getting a job than in this area. The economic situation of this valley is not good, you know, but it depends. I think a lot depends on the individual. How much they want to go out and look, and how far they get along in school in them two years.
GS: Can you give me an idea of what most of them are retraining for? (190)
MU: Yeah. There's a large majority of them at West Virginia Northern Community College that are Refrigeration, Air conditioning, and Heating. That's the large majority of them. Then the other, I'd say, the second largest would be Culinary Arts. There's a large group in that.
GS: That's surprising to me.
MU: Right. Right, but that's the two major groups, and then there's three of them in Medical Lab Technology. There's one in Respiratory Care Technology. There's a couple of them in just General Studies, which is Liberal Arts, two years in Liberal Arts, and then there's a large group in Appliance Repair. In Belmont Tech there's several people in Building Preservation and Restoration.
GS: I have a friend in that. That's supposed to be a good program.
MU: Then there's some in Welding. Then there's some in Refrigeration, Air conditioning, and Heating over there, one individual at Wheeling College working on his M.B.A. There's several of them in Accounting. There's several of them in Business. So, basically, that's it. (209)
GS: Seems like, from everything I read, we're transferring from industry to service industries. That's where these people will probably end up then. Right? Especially, refrigeration.
MU: Refrigeration, Heating, Air conditioning, yeah, but I'd say, if a group of them got together and opened up their own business.
GS: They're probably not going to make the money they made before, are they?
MU: No, no, I don't believe so. I heard them talking anywhere from seven to eight to nine dollars an hour starting to where before they was making thirteen/fourteen.
GS: Have you had any major problems with your job since you've been here?
MU: Well, basically, it's all starting to fall together. The first six months, it just took time to get everything going and to learn everything. You know, I had a lot to learn. The longer it goes on, the more comfortable I'm starting to feel. (222)
GS: Are you a student here, too?
MU: No. This is a full time position.
GS: Well, this position will run out for you too then.
MU: It will run out for me. I may be here, possibly, it all depends, three months longer than everybody else to do the followup reports. When people come into the program, you've got to do an enrollment form on them. When they leave the program, you've got to do a completion/separation form on them. Then you have to do an exit form. Then ninety days after that you have to do a followup form. That's where you contact them, find out where they're at, what they're doing, but, at the end of the program, Charleston said that they wanted to try to get into some placement, get some workshops set up for them, get some companies for the people who are laid off, the Blaw-Knox group.
GS: The State has worked very closely with us, once they got into it. Even they had trouble finding out how the thing worked at the beginning of ours. (236)
MU: It's new to a lot of people. You know, you look through the federal registers and what not. There's a lot of interpretations.
GS: I went to one meeting. I'll tell you a little bit about mine. The fellow from the Labor Department was there. He says you have to do this within thirteen weeks. It's spelled out in black and white. Well, the thirteen weeks was already up, and nobody knew about it. That was Ireland, the very first one to get laid off. They did eventually get around it, but it took a lot of fighting and hassle.
MU: Yeah, yeah. I don't know, there's a lot of leeway in some of these programs. Some of them, there's not, but you had to follow the procedures that are set by the Department of Labor, and then, what they do, they come in and they audit these programs. Like Shoemaker, they'll come in and they'll audit Shoemaker. They'll say you have to follow this procedure, this, this, and this, in order to get the needs related, in order to do this. That's like, there was some problems here with summer school, that you have to take four credit hours in order to be full time. The State said, well, they have to do what the school says is standard to be full time. The school said well why do these people have to take four credit hours? Why can't they take three? Four credit hours is an odd number, unless you have a Chemistry with a lab. If you have a class with a lab, you know, which means you have to take one class, then try to pick up another hour somewhere. But that's what they had to do. The Blaw-Knox people, along with all the other mines, they had to take that four credit hours to be considered full time. If the school had to drop their standard down and say well it's only three credit hours, then they could have taken three credit hours. (262)
GS: These people that are at Athens and stuff, do you have any contact with them?
MU: There's only one down in Athens. I haven't spoke to him for probably six weeks.
GS: Just unless he needs something, some eyeglasses.
MU: Yeah, he'll call me, or whatever. He was all taken care of before he went down there. So, everything is going pretty smooth with him. (267)
GS: You've answered most of my questions. Do you have anything else.
MU: Basically, that's about it. I can't think of anything else.
GS: Well, I appreciate this.
MU: Yeah, anytime.(Break in taping.)
MU: Somebody who has maybe a year, a year and a half, you know, it's going to make him look better.
GS: Yeah, in the job market.
MU: In the job market. (274)
GS: Did you have anybody that was, say, like a dropout in the third grade, or something like that? Did you have any of that?
MU: Yeah, well, there's two of them, non-high school graduates in the program.
GS: They're still in the program, though?
MU: They're still in the program, but they're not, I don't want to say where they're at, but they're getting private tutoring.
GS: Well, we had two or three in that situation, and they set up a special, RESA or somebody set up.
MU: RESA. Well, we've got one working through the YWCA. He works with ( ), one of his tutors. His reading level is probably, I don't know, seventh grade, eighth grade, if that. He's made a lot of progress, and then there's another one also who's going to start working toward his G.E.D. in May, at the end of May.
GS: So it's helping. (288)
MU: Oh, sure, sure.
GS: We had some fellows that couldn't read, period, illiterate, but I've worked with the men for twenty years. They're not dumb. They just needed something.
MU: This one guy ran this machine. He was a machinist, and he could machine that roll to within thousandths of whatever he was supposed to, and Math, he was a whiz at, but he just can't read. He can read, but not real well.
GS: So they've got something for everybody.
MU: They're fair. They're very fair people, very fair people. They're there to help them.
GS: What's surprising to me, one thing you said there, they're actually going to try to place some of these people.(301)
MU: Right. Right. That's what Sharon Higginbotham told me. She wants to get some workshops set up, maybe next Spring. Get some companies. Contact some companies. I think we'll know more next year. We have to wait till Fall. You know, these grants, if you say, you know, well we've placed so many, it helps, you know, then, if you ever want to apply for them again. (Just putting them through.) You know I think that's one of the things I'm going to work towards. Try to help get them placed. Contact the employers. Show them who we have, especially what they can do, what they used to do. Hopefully, that will help.
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