Mill Story #30: Women Are Hired in the Mill (again)

Mill Story #30: Women Are Hired in the Mill (again)


Twenty years ago I had a conversation with the mother of one of my members.  She worked in the Mills during World War II and had been kicked out when the war ended.   She was a strong and defiant personality, and had successfully balanced a family and working life after she left the Mill job.  But even at 70 years old, she was still visibly angry over being removed from a Mill job she obviously enjoyed, and over the loss of pay, independence and security that job would have provided her had she been allowed to stay.   The civil rights and fair employment laws of the 1970’s would require the hiring of an entire new generation of women to the industrial workplaces of America.  And the changes, as is usually the case, would include struggle, unexpected challenges and a healthy dose of irony. Continue reading


Mill Story #29: Dollar Day and Empowering People

Mill Story #29: Dollar Day and Empowering People


In the 1989 round of Bethlehem Steel negotiations the Company proposed a $5/hour cut in every union employee’s pay at its Steelton Plant.  This was the typical lazy-corporate way of handling business problems.  The corporation simply took its somewhat inflated “accounting losses”, divided it up by the number of hours of employee work per year, and that calculated out to a $5/per hour cut.  No fuss, no muss.  Except it was exactly the wrong thing to do. Continue reading

Mill Stories #28: The Proud Man with Cancer

Mill Stories #28: The Proud Man with Cancer


I walked into the Williamsport hotel ballroom to set up my computer slide show.  He was already there.  Two hours before the presentation was scheduled to start.  An older man, but one that obviously had been powerful in his day.  I asked him if he wanted to talk.  He told me to get my equipment in order and then he had a question for me.  I did as he asked, looking at him as I worked.  He sat tall and straight in his chair, military in his bearing.  But he also looked worn.  The kind of worn that worried you.  And when I was done, I sat beside him to listen. Continue reading

Mill Story #27: Dead Mill Walking, the Resurrection of a Pipe Mill

Mill Story #27: Dead Mill Walking, the Resurrection of a Pipe Mill


It stretched a half mile above the PA Turnpike Bridge that separates Steelton and Highspire.  The rusted steel, broken windows, and overgrown weeds gave the Bethlehem Steel Pipe Mill the look of another abandoned piece of industrial history.  At one time, the steelworkers in these buildings had made the Golden Gate Bridge, the roof of the Toronto Sky Dome and untold miles of huge pressurized pipe that was buried under America to carry our gas and oil.  Idled for two years and its owner in bankruptcy, the Steelton Pipe Mill was an unlikely candidate for a second chance.  But a risk-taking businessman, a determined union and a supportive community decided to fight for that long shot. Continue reading

Mill Story #26: The Worst Speech I Ever Gave – The Classroom and the Mill

Mill Story #26: The Worst Speech I Ever Gave – The Classroom and the Mill


At one time in Pennsylvania, Teachers were among the most exploited public employees and in some places in the State, they still are.  Not only were they paid poorly, but contended with over five hundred school districts. This meant a huge disparity in pay, benefits and working conditions across the state.  In 1970 Teachers were given the right to strike in Pennsylvania.  They met heavy resistance as School Administrations and School Boards consistently drove teachers to the picket lines.  In many cases the teachers had gone without a contract for long periods, until they felt they had no option but to strike.  Teacher strikes were highly unpopular with the public and a decision to strike required unity and determination.   As one school district in the Harrisburg area met to consider their options, I was asked to speak to them in my capacity as the Central Labor Council President.  It turned out to be the worst speech I ever gave. Continue reading

Mill Story #25: Joey Wants a Union

Mill Story #25:  Joey Wants a Union


Joey and three of his buddies were fed up.  They worked for a large corporation, at a division that had about 100 people on site.  They were making a product that was in high demand and was making the company tons of money.  Yet every day they went to work in fouled air, poorly maintained equipment and near minimum wage pay.  Their work was skilled and they were not easily replaced.  To add insult to injury, the company had brought in a manager that demeaned them, was not competent to run the operation and was rumored to be looking for ways to reduce their wages and benefits even more.  They came to our Local Union seeking some relief. Continue reading

Mill Story #24: Bobby Paine and the Mysterious Eroding Limestone

Mill Story #24:  Bobby Paine and the Mysterious Eroding Limestone


Bobby Paine was one of the most senior workers at Bethlehem’s Millard Limestone Quarries in Annville, PA.  He also was the long time United Steelworker Local Union President there.  Part impish Irishman and part practical Dutchman, Bobby hid a sharp mind and keen business sense behind a personality that was hard not to like.  Bent over from back problems, and gnomish in stature, you could easily dismiss one of the most able people on the union negotiating team.  Continue reading