YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Dolores Hrycyk may someday go back to private life as a doctor's receptionist. But for now, the 53-year-old wife of a retired steelworker is a full-time activist fighting to make sure that her husband's pension is secure.
As chairman of Solidarity USA, she is leading a group of LTV Steel Co. retirees and their spouses who got together last year because they were afraid of losing their pension and health care benefits.
They became worried after Dallas-based LTV Corp., the parent company of the nation's second largest steelmaker, filed a Chapter 11 petition in July to reorganize its finances under federal bankruptcy law.
Leader of Rallies
Hrycyk (whose Ukrainian name is pronounced HRIH-chek) has led thousands of retired steel workers and their supporters to rallies at Wall Street, the U.S. Capitol and LTV Steel's Cleveland headquarters.
Although she is soft-spoken most of the time, her oratory can be fiery when she is addressing the mostly male audiences.
"When it comes to push or shove, LTV, we're going to shove, and if you don't think this woman can lead this country to a national strike, just watch me and stick with me!" she yelled to cheers at a December rally in front of LTV Steel's offices.
The daughter of a Pennsylvania foundry worker, Hrycyk has become the focal point of the pension fight. She often wins more applause than the politicians and union leaders at labor rallies, and she has been made an honorary member of the United Steelworkers union.
"A man couldn't do what I did because they fight with each other," she said. "I've seen them. It's unreal. I was the mother image that came over to take over, and the men have been marvelous to me and accepted me."
Despite her speeches about corporate greed and the evil ways of rich owners and politicians, Hrycyk does not excuse the performance of union leaders and the workers themselves for the situation facing retirees.
"I think the working man is responsible for what has happened," she said. "First of all, he didn't go to his union meeting. His belly was full. They elected people who were not qualified to look into a fiduciary responsibility.
"When a . . . report came out, they didn't know what it was, they didn't know where the money was invested, what kind of return they were getting on it, whether the company was playing games with it. And in the meantime, these corporations were hiring these young geniuses."
For Dolores Hrycyk, the bottom line now is ensuring that sure her husband, Mike, 56, continues to get his $923 monthly pension and that there is some reasonable way for him to afford major medical coverage, which now costs $51 a month.
One of the Hrycyks' fears is that the pension plans of financially troubled LTV may be turned over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
If that federal agency takes over the plans, the steelworkers union estimates, 85% of the 71,000 retirees involved would suffer no reduction or interruption in their pension checks. But the Hrycyks are among the 15% who would be hurt.
Their pensions became payable because of plant cutbacks. The early pensions are paid to workers who have yet to reach age 62 and are not eligible for Social Security.
The early pensions came in two parts, one paying $400 to $800 a month and the other $400 as a monthly supplement that expires when the pensioner becomes eligible for Social Security.
"If the federal government takes over the pensions, he loses his $400, and because of his age he gets less," Dolores Hrycyk said.
To Be Negotiated
And although he worked 36 years in the steel mills, her husband's health care benefits are uncertain and destined to be the subject of union contract talks with LTV.
"I know we've always had God on our side," she said. "Solidarity has believed in this, and the final judge . . . is going to be that judge up there."
But she says that Congress holds the answer to the pensioners' problems. She wants legislation beyond the stopgap measure that guarantees full pension benefits until May, and she wants a law mandating that any company that files for Chapter 11 protection from creditors has to treat pensioners as being first in line for settlement of debts.
She also wants a congressional investigation of LTV and how it ended up in bankruptcy court reorganization.