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Geneva workers give their $2 worth

PROVO — If you see a $2 bill next week, it probably came out of the pocket of an unemployed Geneva Steel worker.



It won't be the first time Geneva workers have passed the bills, either.

In 1989, the company paid employee bonuses with $2 bills. The uncommon currency circulated through the community and demonstrated the importance of the steel mill to the Utah Valley economy.

Three Brigham Young University sociologists have revived the publicity stunt to call attention to the plight of the some 1,200 former Geneva employees who remain in Utah County. The researchers mailed a questionnaire to the former steelworkers this week and included a $2 bill in each envelope.

The survey is the second in a project started last year to determine the impact of plant closings on employees.

The first survey provided evidence of the financial impact of the closure on the steelworkers' families — nearly half remained unemployed as of July 2002 and 83 percent reported their standard of living was worse than the year before.

The new questionnaire will collect information about personal and family life.

"Based on the survey last year, we do know the closure placed a lot of the families in a financial crisis," said Marie Cornwall, a family sociologist. "What we'll find out this year is what is the impact of that financial crisis in these families. We already know there have been several separations and divorces."

Geneva Steel closed in November 2001 after more than 55 years of production.

"Economists can project the financial costs of a plant closure, but it's rare to have the opportunity to look at a situation and see what the human cost is," Cornwall said.

Cornwall and fellow professors Ralph Brown and Carol Ward compiled data from 617 questionnaires returned last year by former Geneva employees and found that just 19 percent had full-time jobs.

Provo's Craig Filippi saw the writing on the wall three years before Geneva's closure and started saving money. When the time came, he took full advantage of federal programs that provided 18 months of unemployment checks and 24 months of schooling.

Filippi's unemployment checks stop coming next month.

He has taken classes at BYU and Utah Valley State College to earn a computer science degree.

Still, Filippi has seen problems. He was stuck with $15,000 in medical bills incurred before the closure and can't afford health insurance.

But he knows he's better off than most, including his former supervisor.

"It's been hard for a lot of guys because they believed it would re-open," Filippi said. "A lot of them didn't prepare, and only a small percentage used the money for school."

Cornwall said 70 interviews conducted with former workers earlier this year confirmed that little has improved since the first survey.

She said about 95 percent of Geneva's employees were men who were proud to make steel and provide for their families. Many of those who are working have taken pay cuts, from between $16 to $20 an hour to $10 or $11 an hour.

Many of those who aren't working reported a loss of their sense of identity.

"It has really struck me," Cornwall said, "that most people don't recognize how lucky they are to be employed and have medical insurance and pensions."