Angry words greet state representative

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Emotions were near the surface Tuesday as Ironton Iron and former Cabletron employees met with Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary and Joy Padgett, director of Gov.

Wednesday, January 05, 2000

Emotions were near the surface Tuesday as Ironton Iron and former Cabletron employees met with Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary and Joy Padgett, director of Gov. Robert Taft’s Office of Appalachia.

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The meeting originally was slated to finalize plans for a Jan. 21 rally in Columbus. Organizers had hoped the rally would draw statewide attention to recent job losses and spur more governmental assistance in the area’s quest for more jobs.

Instead, the three-hour meeting focused on the frustrations and apparent roadblocks workers have encountered as they have sought to be a part of the area’s economic resurgence.

Without encouraging or discouraging the group’s rally plans, Ms. Padgett suggested they think through the idea before proceeding.

"Since last March, Lawrence County has lost a tremendous number of jobs – jobs you can raise families on," Ms. Padgett said. "We’re all in a struggle, and there must be unity. You don’t market a building; you market a community."

She said the rally could be misconstrued by elected officials and others as indicative of problems within the labor community.

"A rally could be misread," she added. "You can come together as a solid workforce, but you need to understand the other side. I come from a union family, but the reality is your coming together (in a more positive way) is the most important thing you can do."

Those attending, though, disagreed.

"Labor is the backbone of this nation," said Dave Akers, who heads the union at Ironton Iron. "We have 450 registered voters in our plant, and we are going to make a difference. We need positive comments, not negative ones. If you don’t have something positive to say that will help us, then

please step aside."

Applause met his remarks, followed with a group plea for assistance from the highest level.

"The governor has a powerful position in this state," said Ironton

City Council member Hugh Donald Scott. "Gov. Taft was in Akron recently concerning a congested railroad crossing. He promised he would send them some help.

"After all we have been through, I would hope the governor would present himself and give us some help or assistance. Hopefully, we’re going to Columbus, and the governor should be there."

Although Gov. Taft has not met personally with affected Ironton workers, Ms. Padgett assured meeting participants that he is very aware of local needs.

"Just because the governor has not stood in Ironton personally doesn’t mean he doesn’t care," she stressed. "He has challenged the Department of Development and me to put together a plan for Southern Ohio. Of course, I cannot promise anything for the governor, but I will pose your question that you would like his physical presence here."

The lack of communication between displaced workers and economic development agencies also was at the top of the list of concerns voiced to the governor’s representative.

"There have been no communications from the LEDC (Lawrence Economic Development Corp. about the Cabletron building," Cleary said. "Council members have had leads, but we have been told they (the LEDC) aren’t interested."

"Things keep slipping through the cracks," said Sue Ellan McMillan, whose family was dealt a double blow by recent closures. She was a long-time Cabletron employee, and her husband, Tom, is employed with Ironton Iron.

"When Cabletron opened, we were told that electronics couldn’t be done here. We showed them it could be done.

"I hear on television how the economy is great. We have a whole town full of employees, and we need the government to assist us. There’s not a skill on Earth that we couldn’t do here."

Akers told the group an investment firm will be at Ironton Iron Jan. 10 to look at the facility and asked Ms. Padgett what help local residents could expect from the state during that visit.

She responded that she was unaware of the visit.

"The problem is that the lady in South Point (Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Pat Clonch) thinks the plant needs to be torn down," Akers said as applause sounded around him. "It’s time for people who don’t know what they’re talking about to get out of the way. We need representation and jobs. Discouragement is not going to stop us."

He recalled previous plant shutdowns that left workers emotionally and financially scarred, and he vowed to work diligently to prevent similar problems in the wake of the most recent closures.

"After the (former) Dayton Malleable closed, I couldn’t buy my daughter a graduation present, so I went in my back yard and cried," he said. "We are in trouble. You need to tell the governor that.

"Make them focus their eyes on Lawrence County. We need to spend money on Lawrence County and get this county up and going."

Several speakers voiced concerns that Southern Ohio has a negative image in Columbus.

"We are educated, and we are not hillbillies," said Rose Akers. "We don’t need pacifiers. We don’t need little runners from Columbus. We want Mr. Taft and we don’t believe we’re asking for too much. There’s nothing coming in Ironton, and I’d like to know why. If you can’t help us, you don’t need to be here."

Ms. Padgett urged the group to have patience, stressing that results can take months and even years. She pledged her office’s support in helping market Ironton, adding that a special town meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Ohio University Southern Campus, will provide an additional forum for idea-sharing. Among the officials scheduled to attend are representatives from the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development and the Ohio Department of Development.