Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 05, 2003

Protect benefits retired workers were promised

As the son of a deceased retiree of Bethlehem Steel, the events related to the company's bankruptcy and subsequent cancellation of pension and health care benefits for its retired workers have made me take a long hard look at my life-long views on corporate America ("Caring first," editorial, March 30).

I'm an MBA, a Republican and a life-long supporter of the American way of life. I have always thought, as my father did, that if you work hard and show total loyalty to your company, you will eventually receive the fruits of your labor.

However, after seeing the injustice perpetrated on the retirees and workers of Bethlehem Steel, I need to re-evaluate my core values.

When I remember my father's last years, attached to an oxygen machine with his body riddled with cancer - all the effects of working long days at "the Point," yet so proud of dear Bethlehem and the "old-timers" he worked with - I thank God he is not around to see what happened.

There is something seriously wrong with our system when a company can just walk away from its obligations and promises to its workers, then profit from those actions. How many millions have been made by the lawyers, investment bankers and executives in this deal while the retirees receive nothing but a termination-of-pension-and-benefits letter?

This is not capitalism as I learned it and from which this great country prospered. This is corporate gangsterism, pure and simple.

Surely, the life-long obligations to these dedicated retirees should supersede the interests others have in the assets of this mismanaged company. But legally they don't.

I never thought I would say this, but we need a law. A law to protect retirees from having a company sell off its assets and run. A law to guarantee that those remaining assets will first go to cover a company's obligations to its most valuable asset - its workers and their spouses.

David Mitchell

Baltimore

Caring for retirees could boost costs

We certainly agree with Gregg Glessner's suggestion in Dan Rodricks' column "Insurer should have to care first for Beth Steel retirees" (March 31) that health care for the Bethlehem Steel retirees should be picked up by CareFirst. But we take exception to the idea that it should be at "the same cost (or lower)" than the price they presently pay.

We pay more than $500 a month (plus co-payments and deductibles) to CareFirst and we have no dental coverage.

We did not shovel coal or work in the heat of a steel mill, but we paid our dues and put in plenty of sweat, hard work and stress for more than 40 years before retiring.

We live on fixed incomes and find the $6,000 to $7,000 we pay every year for health care an intolerable burden. But we have no alternative. And it seems every time we read the paper we learn that one medical or insurance charge or another will increase.

We sympathize with the Bethlehem Steel retirees. But we know that if 20,000 members are added to CareFirst, and given premium coverage at reduced rates, we, and thousands like us, will pay still higher rates.

Ronald Caplan

Celia Caplan

Owings Mills

The wrong place to put high school

In December, I filed a lawsuit on behalf of the taxpayers of Baltimore because I believed putting a high school in the Port Discovery building was inappropriate, illegal and not in the best interest of students.

Now I am concerned that city officials have not only failed to address the concerns I (and many others) have raised but have decided to expand the school, and that the city and school system are willing to save the failing Port Discovery museum at the expense of the students and taxpayers ("Museum rental for school approved," March 26).

No one can rationally argue that a new high school should be located in an adult entertainment area absent some extraordinary reason for doing so. What could that reason be?

There is no dispute that the property would generate significant revenues for the city if it were operated as a bar or restaurant. And there is no dispute that, to use the facility as a school, the city school system must spend $540,000 in rent and operating expenses and millions to renovate a space the city already owns.

The only explanation that has been given to support this location for the school is that it will enable students to receive hands-on experience in the tourism industry.

The curriculum, however, includes only one relevant class per semester, four days a year of mentoring, and summer internships. It therefore also fails to justify the location.

If Port Discovery cannot survive without additional subsidy from the financially strapped city and school system, it should close and the property should be used to generate revenue the city so desperately needs.

Darcy Massof

Baltimore

Spending spree didn't cause deficit

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