Why Retired Steelworker Doug May Isn’t Done Fighting for American Steel

Jeffrey Bonior

Jeffrey Bonior Researcher, AAM

Doug May might have left the factory floor when he retired in February 2016, but he didn’t stop fighting for his fellow steelworkers. In fact, he might just have gotten started.

May, who worked 43 years at the steel mill in Granite City, Ill., opted to become an active advocate for his fellow steelworkers, including via the organization SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees). And right now, May’s energy is focused on generating support for strong and comprehensive action on steel and aluminum imports, which have devastated communities like Granite City over the past several years.

This issue is personal for May in more ways than one. He has been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and is grateful for the excellent health coverage he is provided in retirement by U.S. Steel.

“Truthfully, there are a lot of employers that don’t carry medical coverage for their retirees,” said May. “I really admire the United Steelworkers, that they have not forgotten those of us who have retired. But the stronger the steel industry is, the better chance we have of retaining out pensions and generous health insurance. I want people to recognize that that is the strength of the industry and the Steelworkers make it possible for me even as a retiree.”

Just days ago, May accompanied two members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1899 to Rep. Mike Bost’s (R-Ill.) district office to push for action on steel imports. Bost is the co-chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus and represents Granite City, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis that’s located just across the American-made Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge on the Mississippi River. (May and his colleagues provided much of the steel that built that bridge.)

President Trump said last week that he plans to place a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports to protect American jobs and defend our national security. Both steel and aluminum have faced surging imports over the past several years, which have led to tens of thousands of layoffs and dozens of plant closures.

Trump’s action is still not finalized, and his promise to issue tariffs has generated heated debate over the past few days. But the overlaying message May and his fellow steelworkers want to relay is that something must be done to help America’s steel communities.

“Stable communities and good schools are all affected by the revenue stream that originates from the manufacturing base,” May said. “People that work at the mill don’t just live in Granite City. They are spread out throughout Madison County, and that tax base is important to the county.”

Born in St. Louis, and a resident of Madison County since the age of 5, May began working at Granite City Works right out of high school at the age of 18. He didn’t plan on staying at the mill, but he became a father and realized he needed the wages and benefits afforded a steelworker.

He stayed for 43 years, nearly 30 of which were under the banner of National Steel, before the massive mill shut down and was bought by U.S. Steel in 2003. And despite losing 60 percent of his pension when National Steel ceased operations, May’s steel job provided for his wife and three children.

“I’ve got three boys and thanks to a good manufacturing job and good negotiated benefits, I was able to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle,” he said. “I was able to send all three of them to college, and they are all doing great in their jobs today.”

May receives a full-pension for his 13 years with U.S. Steel and, along with Social Security benefits, the 63-year-old May can continue his activism in retirement while battling a life-threatening disease. One of the medications he is now taking has a retail cost of $120,000 per year, but because of his steelworker health insurance, May pays only $80 per month for the prescription.

“Even the oncology nurse could not believe my out-of-pocket costs would be only $80 per month,” May said. “She said this can’t be right. But the USW negotiated benefit with the industry was strong and helps the retirees maintain great, pre-Medicare medical coverage.”

That’s one of the reasons why May is spending his retirement fighting for the steelworkers who are still working in the mill.

“It’s a generational bond between steelworkers,” May said. “Those who came before me in the steel mill, I paid in for 43 years into the pension plan so they could enjoy retirement without worrying about the liability. I don’t want to see that bargain threatened now that I’m the recipient of it. I’d like to see those active members continue their employment and supporting their families and receive the same retirement benefits that I have.”

During his 43 years in the mill, May worked just about every job there, including general laborer, railroad switchman, continuous caster-operator, and desulphurization operator at the Basic Oxygen Furnace. He finished out his career by working 15 years as a crane operator.

May also became a frequent contributor to newspapers about policy issues concerning steelworkers, and eventually created and became editor of Local 1899’s newsletter “Mettle Post.”

He has carried his passion for steelworker issue into retirement. He lives on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River Valley and can see the Stan Musial Bridge from his living room. It serves as a reminder of the capabilities of the American steel industry.

“I’m proud of that bridge because it supports those things that have offered the middle-class opportunities of upward mobility,” said May. “To look out my window and see the bridge that helped support other families, well it makes me proud to look at.”


Reposted from AAM

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