Wheeling Spoken History Project: S. Allen "Butch" Walker
[ Date: May 5, 1995; Interview #: 96-010; Title: Job Retraining and the Clean Air Act ]
▼ Begin interview
▼ Interview with S. Allen "Butch" Walker
Title: Job Retraining and the Clean Air Act
[ Date: May 5, 1995; Interview #: 96-010 ]
GORDON SWARTZ: First, I'd like your name.
S. ALLEN "BUTCH" WALKER: The name is Butch Walker. I used to work for Ohio Edison Company down at Dilles Bottom. We walked into work one day. They handed us a nice little thing that says we're all done. There was a hundred of us went out the gate that day.
GS: No notice?
BW: No notice, no anything else. They gave us their sixty-day notice by giving us the fall, you know, by extending our paycheck until sixty days was up.
GS: They did pay you for the sixty days?
BW: So they paid us for the sixty days.
GS: But they didn't let you work?
BW: But they didn't let us work. So, in other words, we couldn't have got any overtime or any advance notice on getting our bills together or anything like that. In other words, it was like we walked in and said "goodbye."
GS: That's different than the coal mines though, because they gave them the sixty-day notice. They didn't want to, but the law says they have to. (29)
BW: Yeah. We got our sixty-day notice in the form of a paycheck two weeks later.
GS: That's strange.
BW: Well, it was so that they could get rid of us immediately.
GS: Do you know why they laid off? Is there any theory, probably opinion?
BW: The Clean Air Act of 1995 went into effect, and Eastberger, or the part of the plant that they shut down, was running in violation of that Clean Air Act.
GS: Okay. That wasn't the case with Blaw-Knox. A fellow I just interviewed, they don't know why they got laid off, but they're still eligible for some kind of funds. (36)
BW: Yeah, because they were a coal mine. That was the biggest reason. They were running three old units that were fifty years old that were not worth what it would take to comply with EPA. You know you don't spend $50 million on units that are ancient.
GS: What did the company do, Ohio Edison?
BW: Absolutely nothing. They gave us their notice and said bye.
GS: When you worked there, what did you do?
BW: Oh, I worked as an operator. I actually was one of the ones who helped make the electricity, or run the equipment that makes the electricity.
GS: Is the plant, it's not completely closed yet?
BW: No. Why they gave us our sixty-day notice is because they laid more than half of us off.
GS: You will probably continue with reduced--.
BW: Five years. New EPA standards go in in the year 2000. I figure that will be the end of the rest of the plant. Everybody else is kind of looking at the same thing that are still working there. They figure five years and they're done. (49)
GS: But you are, hopefully, eligible for some retraining funds. You're getting some now?
BW: Well, no, right now, all I'm getting is through JTPA. I am getting my schooling paid for, but I'm still drawing unemployment, and, then, hopefully, they think that we're eligible for the needs-related payments, but we haven't got yet a confirmation from the United States Government that says yes we are, we will be able to all go on a needs-related payment until we finish schooling. And then there's like, I think so far, about seven have got jobs out of the hundred, but the other 93 of us are unemployed.
GS: Of that 93, how many are going to school, or have you got an idea? (58)
BW: At present we've got about 25-26 going to school. Come Summer Quarter, which is when our 90 days runs out. You know, you have to be in within 90 days, or registered, or something like that, within like 90 days, and Summer Quarter is when that 90 days is up.
GS: Okay, I was wondering about that.
BW: Yeah, there was a lot of people that was just, well, I didn't want to go to school this spring either. I had so many things on my mind, you know. It's not easy to walk out of a job that you've had for sixteen years. You know, it's just a different thing. How you gonna do? What you're gonna do. This type of deal. So, I didn't really want to start Spring Quarter, but a lot of us did anyway, but the bulk of everybody is going to be starting Summer Quarter. I think there's going to probably be about sixty more Summer Quarter.
GS: In your opinion, is this going to help you and the other people, this retraining?
BW: I think some people it will help, but not here in the area, because there's no jobs in this valley. I mean, you know, the people who, I think, out of the ones out of the seven that got hired on recently, or at least the seven or so I know about, I would expect that five of them will be unemployed or laid off from the job they have now within the next six months. They're only being hired in for basically summer help. They'll be laid off probably in about six months. Well, part of them are working for Ormet. So Ormet lays off, hires back, lays off, hires back, you know, they probably won't have steady employment for five years, if they're that lucky. Then a couple of others went to work for another aluminum company down in Marietta somewhere, but, no, in this area there's no jobs. When I get out of school, the chances of me getting on somewhere making half of what I made before I left is probably slim to no chance. (81)
GS: That's in this area. Do you think there's possibilities in other areas, or have you even considered that?
BW: Well, I'm hoping other areas there are, but the problem with jobs is there's usually a job, there's usually somebody that wants the job, but the problem is you can't get the two people together, because the Ohio Bureau of Unemployment is at best pathetic. You know, I mean, like here we all are, we all have the same qualifications. One guy gets called, there's a job someplace for him, and the rest of us don't, but yet we all came from the same place, we have the same qualifications, but yet he gets called and nobody else does. Now, of course, some of that's because of veterans, you know. Quite often some companies will say "veteran only," you know, when they hire, but, that's still that deal. And then, some of these job search places, they want fifty percent of your paycheck for the first year. So you can't afford it. If you go to work for $10 an hour, you can't afford to live on it.
GS: So, the Unemployment that you're drawing, you hope will be taken over by this grant, but then that's all you'll be receiving as far as income which is a whole lot less than what you made, I'm sure. (97)
BW: I made $17.35 an hour when I was laid off. The day I was laid off I was making $17.35 an hour, and now we're all maxed out on the Unemployment which amounts to, well, if you have two dependents, no, two or three dependents, it's $295 a week.
GS: That's a little more than West Virginia even.
BW: That's it, and you have to pay income tax on that at the end of the year. So, really, now once you start on the grant, from what I understand it's not taxable. Since it's a government grant, you don't have to pay income tax on it. So, essentially, even though I get less money, I would get a raise. (106)
GS: You're correct.
BW: Which is like about $280 a month, I think, is what I will be drawing, you know, once I go onto that, but the biggest problem that all of us have is insurance. Nobody can afford to stay on the insurance policy that we had, and, the problem is, if you have some type of condition, no other insurance company will underwrite you. Almost everybody who has a pre-existing condition has been turned down by the Upper Ohio Valley, and that was the insurance that 90 percent of us had.
GS: Most of you probably couldn't even afford that.
BW: Well, there was a special thing that we could get, you know, that was like a $100 a month, and some people could afford that. Some of us can't. Some people could afford $100 a month, but almost everybody who had a pre-existing condition was turned down, and almost every other insurance company, we've had a lot of people come in from different places and different insurance company underwriters and things like this, and they all basically say the same thing. If you've got a pre-existing condition, you have to elect to go on COBRA, and for me that was $200 a month, for a family it's $470 a month. Nobody can afford that, not on Unemployment. You know, I mean, that's the biggest problem that we have is insurance. (122)
GS: People that have various payments and stuff are going to lose a lot of things too on this.
BW: Well, there's a lot of people that's already sold their cars and things like that that they were paying on and that type of deal. Yeah, a lot of people are going to get really, you know. I figure there's going to be a few bankruptcies, 'cause there's always people that are living past their means. You know, I think everybody does in America to an extent, but I figure there's going to be a lot of people that are going to end up bankrupt and that type of deal. Well, having no notice was really disgusting. If they would give a sixty-day notice, hey, you know, when they asked to work overtime, "Sure, I'll work it, you know, that's an extra hundred dollars in my paycheck." You know, work the overtime, or that type of deal. You'd also had some time to sell you stuff ahead of time and this type of deal. Now when they lump-summed our last paycheck, they took more than half of it for income tax. (134)
BW: You know I got paid, I think, 42 days, and it was lump-summed. Seventeen dollars an hour, you figure out it was like $5700 gross, and I took home $2700.
GS: Talking earlier, you mentioned how badly this really affected some people.
BW: Oh, yeah, there was, I figure there's, if we wouldn't have got the needs-related, you know, if they wouldn't have had the hope of getting the needs-related payments, I think two or three people would have put a gun to their head and blown their brains out. Yeah, there was some people that are severely depressed. The thing is they needed to be locked up for a little while and bounce their head off a padded cell somewhere, but, you know, I mean, they were severely depressed. I think there'd have been two or three people probably killed themselves, because one guy just said, "I'm done for. I can't do anything." He's got three kids at home. They're all teenagers, you know, which is real expensive, and he just, he was done for. There was no way he could make his house payment and make his car payment, you know, and take care of three kids. The way he is, I don't know if he can take care of three kids and make his house payment. (149)
GS: Is he one of the fellows going to school?
BW: Yeah, he's starting Summer Quarter.
GS: This does supply some hope for people at least, it seems.
BW: Well, the most of us ended up getting a job with Edison because we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, you know, and then it snowballed. Basically, Edison was building at the time and expanding, and we got on the wagon and went up the totem pole pretty fast, you know, and ended up making halfway decent money with really very little training except on-the-job training. Well, that stuff's over and done with now. America doesn't produce anything anymore. We're just paperpushers. You know, industry is done for in America. (159)
GS: How is this going to help you personally, do you think, this training? I know we talked about it a while.
BW: I think that the training, you know, in my case I have a computer business on the side, you know, but to go to work for say some company where I'd be a technician for some company and maintain a large computer system. You know, if I put in an application now, they're going to kind of look at it and say, "Okay, so what, he has a computer business, whoopee, pitch it in the garbage." I'm hoping that with the two-year degree with a couple of different degrees in computers, in Electronics, that they will look at it and say, "Well, he does have a couple of Associate Degrees, maybe we ought to bring him in, interview him, you know, see if he knows anything." And, hopefully, I can end up getting a decent job that way.
GS: This training is good for two years, is that correct?
BW: Yes, it's about two years. Whenever we basically get finished with our degree and all. So about two years, two, two and a half years, somewhere in that range. You know, it depends on how fast you can go through it. Some people, like this quarter I took twelve hours to try to get back in the swing of going to college. You know, it's been a long, long time since I did any studying, let alone, like today I have three chapters to read. Most people don't read that much, especially not technical stuff. (178)
GS: We started out this interview, generally I ask a little bit of personal background. You did give me a little bit how you started at Blaw-Knox.
BW: Ohio Edison.
GS: Sorry, Ohio Edison. Where did you grow up? Did you grow up in this area?
BW: No, I moved to this area about twelve years ago. I was originally working for Ohio Edison back in Springfield, and the EPA shut it down, the same basic reasons, and they offered me a job here. So I took it, twelve years ago. So I've been here twelve years. (186)
GS: Springfield, Illinois?
BW: Springfield, Ohio?
GS: Springfield, Ohio. Okay. I was just wondering.
BW: I was, well, I'm still legally married, but, pending a divorce. You know, I went to Divorce Court Tuesday and got laid off Thursday.
GS: This layoff didn't have anything to do with the divorce, did it?
GS: Well, some people that I've talked to it has.
BW: Yes, I know, there's a lot of people that, because of unemployment, are going to end up getting a divorce.
GS: I know, personally, several myself. (192)
BW: You know, that's really sad. You know, when they're both around one another all the time, it causes more problems.
GS: They can't stand each other some times. Right.
BW: Yeah, I figure there's going to probably be quite a few divorces from us that will be strictly because of Ohio Edison shutting down. I think if we would have had our sixty-day notice, you know, I think a lot of those types of things would have been a little bit better, but, you know, like I said, the guys who wanted to put a gun to their head, I think they would have not had that problem if they'd had sixty-day notice and certain other things like that.
GS: That was a funny way to get around it, it seems like to me. Well, they did pay you for the sixty days.
BW: Well, they paid us what we would have worked for sixty days, but that doesn't include any overtime and anything else like that, you know. The thing about it is there's a holiday or two in those. (205)
GS: Okay, you mentioned insurance, did it continue any whatsoever?
BW: It continued for our sixty days, and that was it.
GS: That's it.
BW: That's it. We're done. There's no insurance for any of us now.
GS: We were better off than you. With our contract, I got to keep my insurance for a year.
BW: Okay, see, we get to keep it as long as we're employed.
GS: And that's it.
BW: You know, like they terminate us in the middle of the month, we keep it to the end of the month, but the next month we're done. So this is May. We're done. We have no insurance, you know, unless we bought it on our own. (212)
GS: I agree with you that that is the hardest thing of the whole deal, I believe, is insurance.
BW: Because you have to, well, if you've got a pre-existing condition, if you've ended up having something hurt, you know, or some deal like this, or you've had a heart attack or something like that, you're done for, because, if you have another heart attack, the insurance company won't pay for it, and you're going to end up spending $50,000 to go to the hospital.
GS: History of a bad back or something, they won't take you, even though the company might have been responsible for your bad back.
BW: Yeah, well, the insurance, it's disgusting. I mean it's pretty bad when the welfare people have insurance and we don't, when we're the ones who supported them for years and years and years. Now we're in the system, and we get nothing.
GS: Well, I wish you the best of luck. Is there anything else you wanted to say?
GS: Thank you.
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