CANTON — In less than two weeks, the final votes will take place on whether Congressman Tim Ryan will be elected Senator from Ohio.
Ryan, D-Warren, put aside his campaign speech and talking points Friday afternoon to hear Hoover Co. retirees lament the impending loss of their Whirlpool life insurance benefits. Ryan is up against Republican nominee JD Vance for the Senate seat, now held by Republican Rob Portman, who is not seeking re-election.
The 60 or so older retirees from the 13th Street SW Plumbing Training Center who were invited to a round table with Ryan, many of whom greeted him with applause, seemed uninterested in hearing Ryan’s positions on these issues. They wanted to know what he could do to help them keep their benefits after losing their health insurance in 2013.
Jim Repace, past president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, briefed Ryan on benefits Hoover retirees had lost over the years after the congressman arrived just before 3 p.m. At one point, Ryan, who was standing next to Repace, sat down in the front row to listen to him for more than six minutes.
Repace said for retirees’ families to receive life insurance benefits, Whirlpool said, “You all have to die by January 1st.”
Many of the roughly 625 remaining Hoover retirees had recently received a September letter from Whirlpool. The company assumed many of the union benefit obligations when it acquired Hoover’s parent company, Maytag, in 2006. Whirlpool sold Hoover to Techtronic Industries shortly thereafter.
The letter said Hoover’s retiree life insurance coverage would be canceled effective later this year. Retirees would be able to purchase life insurance through MetLife at their own expense without having to prove insurability.
Repace said Whirlpool is committed to offering lifetime life insurance. The letter does not state the reason or basis on which Whirlpool terminated coverage.
Tim Ryan’s insurance takeover for former Hoover Co. workers
Ryan then took to the podium and said: “At this particular moment, there’s nothing I can do but say I’ll definitely look into this. Which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.”
Ryan said for a company to wriggle out of its obligations to retirees, “It’s fundamentally unfair. … I will have a letter from my office (to Whirlpool) by Monday asking many questions.”
The congressman said he would try to get Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, to join him in his efforts to get the answers. But Ryan said he couldn’t make any promises about whether it would yield results. He said he supported legislation so that if a company went bankrupt, its workers and retirees, who were promised benefits, would be at the forefront, not behind, of creditors demanding their payment.
“I’m very sorry you’re going through this. It’s brutal,” Ryan said. “I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Ryan later said, “I know this is hard for some people, but it’s not about me. It’s about her. And they suffer. So we will listen. Then we will try to help them.”
Hoover union executive committee member Dan Hiner said: “I hope something can be done. When you get knocked down so often, you lose hope.”
In 2019, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the retirees were not eligible for lifetime health insurance coverage, overturning a US District Court ruling.
More:Court of Appeal rules against Hoover retirees
Ryan reveals positions
The congressman discussed some of his campaign positions during a six-minute interview after shaking hands with participants.
- On Republicans blaming President Joe Biden and Democrats for inflation: “People are suffering. I mean, we have to admit that people are in a really difficult situation right now. Gas prices, food prices. It almost doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. Especially the people who travel a lot for work. If you are in home health care or construction. It’s really difficult. I asked for a tax cut. I think we need to put money into people’s pockets now so they can absorb some of the cost of inflation that’s out there. And then get the supply chains back. Ryan cited Democrats’ work on the CHIPS bill to boost a domestic semiconductor industry and the inflation-mitigation bill as measures aimed at “bringing those supply chains that went to China back here.” He criticized Vance for his investment in China, saying, “He’s not part of the solution.”
- Whether his proposed tax cut would make inflation worse: “I think the inflation thing is starting to ease off. I think most of it is due to the supply chains. And (the supply chains are) starting to open up a bit. And we think the fact that these oil companies are making the money that they’re making now on the backs of consumers is wrong, and they’re doing stock buybacks and all sorts of crazy stuff.” Ryan suggested legislation to curb tax breaks for such companies would be the answer.
- On polls showing abortion is not the most important issue for the majority of voters: “I think we need to focus on the economy. The jobs, the wages, the pensions, the bread-and-butter stuff we’ve been hearing about here. That’s what worries people all the time. … Abortion is burned in (as an important issue) for a certain number of people, but my focus has been on the economy and jobs and I’m going to leave it there.”
- On Republicans promoting border politics and illegal immigration as key campaign issues: “I think we need a sane American solution to the border. And that means a strong border, more border protection, border security… There are 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 is part of a caucus promoting the use of technology to stop fentanyl being smuggled into the country and determining who crosses the border. He said there are people who tried to use the border as an issue to enrich themselves politically instead of looking for solutions.
- On former President Donald Trump’s supporters who support Vance because Trump supports him: “I don’t think that’s a big part of the electorate. I think there are some who will follow suit. … Anyone who thinks that doesn’t know Ohio. Because Ohioans think for themselves. … We will win this race. There is no doubt about it. People aren’t going to vote for a guy from California who flew here with a Silicon Valley billionaire to fund his (Vance was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State University before moving to the area San Francisco moved to become a venture capitalist).
- Whether Ryan is getting enough support from national Democratic campaign committees: “We don’t really need their support. I set up a campaign. We can walk alone. We collect our own money. We are clearly superior to JD Vance. And we’re going to win this thing without the national help. And I will be a very independent senator.”
- On Ryan’s recent pitch to Stark County voters: “I want the people of Stark County to know where I’m from. Coming 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 of that is very similar to where I grew up. And they will have a fighter. I understand what people are going through here. And I know how to fight, and I’d like to ask for your vote.”
Ryan was riding his red campaign bus with the slogan “Made in Ohio” about 50 minutes after arriving. Put Workers First”.
Hoover Co. retirees speak of insurance losses
Retirees were skeptical about what could save their life insurance benefits.
“Same old story,” said Hoover pensioner Curt Ongenecker, 78, of Nimishillen Township. “They always talk, but they do nothing.”
Betsy Hanson, 72, of Jackson Township, who worked at Hoover for 37 years, said she was glad Ryan came.
“I hope he could really do something,” she said. “We gave up money at the time of the contract so we could receive benefits.”
However, Hanson said Ryan would not get her vote because she had voted for almost every Republican candidate since voting for Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. And she was opposed to the extent of liberal-backed welfare programs that took taxpayer money from her to give to others.
Kate Steed, 75, of Canton, who worked at Hoover for 36 years, planned to vote for Ryan as a senator.
“It’s just good to have someone in our corner, even if it takes them two months to get that insurance from us. (Ryan) took the time to even cum. Who else took the time? I do not care.”
Steed said two months isn’t enough time to stop Whirlpool from forfeiting its life insurance benefit.
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