Mike Lewis, financial secretary of the local union, said he's optimistic about the potential for getting a new owner to run the plant, rather than dismantle it. He hopes potential buyers recognize how invested workers are in Sparrows Point — many, him included, have family history there. Lewis' grandfather and uncle both worked at the complex.

But optimism aside, Lewis said, it's an anxious, uncertain place that all the workers find themselves in.

"We believe in the American story — that if you worked hard, you played by the rules, you wouldn't have anything to worry about," he said. "And that part of the American dream is being snatched away from us."

Workers started arriving more than an hour before the 4 p.m. meeting. The line to get into the hall snaked out of the building, down the stairs and around the sidewalk.

Once inside, men and women peppered union leaders with questions about benefits, about potential owners, about how RG Steel failed so rapidly. Asked about the future, Rosel said steel industry consultants are telling the union that finding a new operator "can be done."

Some of the steelworkers at the meeting already are done — they've retired. Randolph Williams of Baltimore signed up Friday, the last day of a small window to qualify for a $10,000 retirement bonus.

"There's nothing definite right now," said Williams 64. "After 45 years, I've had enough."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RealEstateWonk

  • Text BUSINESS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Business text alerts