Retraining for laid-off steelworkers in Chicago gains gradual acceptance

Frank Calvin has come to class. In a building just outside the 83rd Street gate of the hulking South Works facility of US Steel, the 25-year veteran of the plant is searching for a new livelihood.

He is one of some 600 laid-off workers who have turned to the Job Search Assistance Center. So far, 60 have been reemployed at mostly nonunion jobs with lower wages.

''I just couldn't believe it,'' says Mr. Calvin. ''You're lucky now if you can find a job at $9 an hour.''

Calvin, who earned $11.56 an hour plus lucrative benefits at South Works, found a job through the center that paid $6.33 an hour. But he quit because of health reasons and is looking again.

The project, a $1 million, six-month effort sponsored by US Steel and the United Steelworkers of America, provides workers with training in job-hunting techniques and telephones and other resources for setting up interviews. The Mayor's Office of Employment and Training is also participating in the program, which seems to be slowing gaining acceptance among the laid-off steelworkers.

''Some of our people ... they're a little bit hostile,'' says Lupe Valadez, the center's union liaison. Eventually ''they drop their gloves, and sometimes they listen.''

The center helped Ray Anderson, a janitor for nine years at South Works, find a job. But he's back, hoping to find a better one. ''Best job I ever had,'' he says of his South Works position. ''If they open this plant again, I'll be climbing over the gate.''

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