CANTON − In less than two weeks, final votes will be cast to determine whether Congressman Tim Ryan will be elected Ohio’s senator.
Ryan, D-Warren, set aside his campaign stump speech and talking points Friday afternoon to hear Hoover Co. retirees’ lament the impending loss of their life insurance benefit provided by Whirlpool. Ryan is running against Republican nominee JD Vance for the Senate seat now held by Republican Rob Portman, who is not seeking re-election.
The roughly 60 elderly retirees at the Plumbers and Pipefitters union training center on 13th Street SW invited to a roundtable discussion with Ryan, many who greeted him with applause, didn’t appear interested in finding out Ryan’s positions on the issues. They wanted to know what he could do to help them keep their benefit after they lost their health coverage in 2013.
Jim Repace, former president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, briefed Ryan on the benefits that the Hoover retirees had lost over the years after the congressman arrived shortly before 3 pm At one point, Ryan who was standing alongside Repace, sat down in the front row of seats to listen to him for more than six minutes.
Repace said for retirees’ families to get the life insurance benefit, Whirlpool is saying, “all of you need to die by Jan. 1.”
Many of the roughly 625 remaining Hoover retirees had recently received a letter dated September from Whirlpool. The company assumed many of the union benefit obligations when it acquired Hoover’s parent company Maytag in 2006. Whirlpool shortly later sold Hoover to Techtronic Industries.
The letter said that Hoover retired life insurance coverage was being terminated effective the end of this year. The retirees would have the option to purchase at their expense life insurance coverage through MetLife without having to provide evidence of insurability.
Repace said Whirlpool was obligated to provide lifetime life insurance coverage. The letter does not include the rationale or basis by which Whirlpool was terminating coverage.
Tim Ryan’s take on loss of insurance for forming Hoover Co. workers
Ryan then took the podium and said, “there’s nothing at this particular moment I’m going to be able to do other than to say I will absolutely look into this. I will absolutely figure out how to try to raise some hell on it. Which sometimes works. And sometimes doesn’t.”
Ryan said for a company to wiggle out of its obligations to retirees “that’s fundamentally unfair. … I will have a letter out by my office (to Whirlpool) by Monday asking a lot of questions.”
The congressman said he would seek to have Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, join him in his efforts to get the answers. But Ryan said he could not make any promises as to whether this would yield results. He said he had supported legislation that if a company went bankrupt, its workers and retirees who were promised benefits would be at the head and not back of the line of creditors seeking to be paid.
“I’m very sorry you’re going through this. This is brutal,” Ryan said. “I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Later, Ryan said, “I know this is hard for some people but it’s not about me. It’s about them. And they’re hurting. So we’re going to listen. Then we’re going to try to help them.”
Dan Hiner, who was a member of the Hoover union employees’ executive committee, said, “I hope something can be done. When you get beat down so many times you start losing hope.”
In 2019, a 6th District Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 that the retirees were not entitled to lifetime healthcare coverage and reversed a US District court ruling.
More:Appeals court rules against Hoover retirees
Ryan reveals positions
The congressman discussed some of his campaign positions during a six-minute interview after he shook hands with the attendees.
- On Republicans blaming President Joe Biden and Democrats for inflation: “People are hurting. I mean I think we’ve got to admit that people are really in a tough spot right now. Gas prices, food prices. It almost doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. Especially those people who travel a lot for work. If you’re in home health care or construction. It’s really difficult. I’ve been calling for a tax cut. I think we need to put money in people’s pockets right now so they can absorb some of the costs of the inflation that’s out there. And then get the supply chains back.” Ryan cited the Democrats’ work on the CHIPS Act to promote a domestic semiconductor industry and the Inflation Reduction Act as policies that seek to “trying to get these supply chains back here that went to China.” He criticized Vance for investing in China and said, “he’s not part of the solution.”
- On whether his proposed tax cut would worsen inflation: “I think the inflation thing, it’s starting to die down. I think most of it is because of the supply chains. And (the supply chains are) starting to unlock a bit. And we ‘ve got to go after this price gouging. The fact that these oil companies are making the kind of money that they’re making on the backs of the consumer right now I think is wrong and they’re doing stock buybacks and all kinds of crazy stuff.” Ryan suggests legislation reining in tax breaks for such companies would be the answer.
- On polls indicating that abortion is not the top issue for a majority of voters: “I think we need to focus on the economy. The jobs, wages, pensions, the bread and butter stuff that we heard about here. That’s what’s on people’s minds all the time. … Abortion is baked in (as an important issue) to a certain number of people but my focus has been on the economy and jobs and I’m going to keep it there.”
- On Republicans promoting border policies and illegal immigration as a major campaign theme: “I think we need a common-sense American solution to the border. And that means a strong border, more border patrol, border security. … There’s eight billion people in the world. Most of them want to live in the United States. They all can’t. We need an orderly process.” Ryan said he was part of a caucus that promoting the use of technology to keep fentanyl from being smuggled into the country and determining who was crossing the border. He said there were people seeking to use the border as an issue to benefit themselves politically rather than seek solutions.
- On supporters of former President Donald Trump supporting Vance because Trump endorsed him: “I don’t think that’s a huge chunk of the electorate. I think there are some who will follow that lead. … Anybody who thinks that doesn’t know Ohio. Because Ohioans think for themselves. … We’re going to win this race. There’s no doubt about it. People aren’t going to vote for a guy from California who parachuted in here with a Silicon Valley billionaire to fund his campaign (Vance was born and raised in Middletown in Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University before he moved to the San Francisco area to become a venture capitalist).
- On whether Ryan is getting enough support from national Democratic campaign committees: “We don’t really need their support. I built a campaign. We can run on our own. We’re raising our own money. We’re clearly outraising JD Vance . And we’re going to win this thing without the national help. And I’m going to be a very independent senator.”
- On Ryan’s final pitch to Stark County voters: “I want people in Stark County just to know where I’m from. Being from outside of Youngstown I know the culture here. I know the work situation here. I know the history of the job loss and the trade deals. And Hoover and Timken and all that is very similar to where I grew up. And they’re going to have a fighter. I understand what people are going through here. And I know how to fight and I’ d like to ask them for their vote.”
Ryan departed about 50 minutes after his arrival in his red campaign bus with the slogan, “Made in Ohio. Put Workers First.”
Hoover Co. retirees speak out of insurance loss
Retirees were skeptical of anything could save their life insurance benefit.
“Same old story,” said Hoover retiree Curt Ongenecker, 78, of Nimishillen Township. “They always talk but they do nothing.”
Betsy Hanson, 72, of Jackson Township, who worked 37 years at Hoover said she was glad Ryan came.
“I’m hoping he could do something really,” she said. “We gave up money at contract time, so we could get benefits.”
However, Hanson said Ryan would not get her vote because she had voted for nearly all Republican candidates since she voted for Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. And she opposed the scale of welfare programs backed by liberals that took tax money from her to give to others.
Kate Steed, 75, of Canton, who worked at Hoover for 36 years, planned to vote for Ryan for senator.
“It’s just good having someone in our corner, even if there’s two months before they’re going to take this insurance form us. (Ryan) took the time to even come. Who else took the time? The rest of them they don’ you even care.”
Steed said two months was not enough time for anyone to block Whirlpool from taking away their life insurance benefit.
Reach Repository at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @rwangREP.