Discrimination


It's all about personality workers and the foreman, if they like you they'll treat you good. On the other hand, if they don't like you, they're going to shun you, they're going to make you feel like an outcast, they can make life pretty bad. --Greg Bowers, Steelmaker

Although the union song praises "solidarity forever" and the Pennsylvania Steel Company offered relatively well-paying jobs to recent immigrants, work in the mill was (and still is) marked by discrimination--according to ethnicity, race, and gender. In earlier decades, native-born Americans of Anglo-Saxon descent and the Irish would be foremen, while the less desirable jobs went to the Italians, Croatians, Slovenians, Hungarians, Serbs, and other immigrants from Eastern Europe. African-Americans, who worked in the mill from the beginning were given the "dirtiest jobs in steelmaking," which were also the most dangerous. Even today there are few African-Americans who hold the more prized jobs such as crane operators, and only one African-American is foreman.

"...the Steelton plant was an industrial plant located in an agrarian economy....Central PA is a very ethnically aware place to llive and the steel mills historically everywhere used ethnicity to keep workers divided in order to keep the unions out and to limit the power of the union where they occur. It was perhaps easier to do this in Steelton than in other places. To give you one example the machine shop at the steel mill was traditionally staffed by people of English and German descent. And through the sixties there had not been an Irish or Italian machinist, to say nothing of a Croatian or Macedonian or heaven...a Mexiacan or black machinist. I mean the level of stratification and discrimination based on ethnicity is really pervasive and to this day I think Steelton is one of the most ethnically alert communities that I have ever been in."
Liz Hrenda-Roberts, former steelworker----Class interview

Some women were accepted as co-workers, but most were not. Many male steelworkers found women workers "a pain in the neck" and complained that women simply could not do the work adequately. Today the mill has fewer than one hundred women steelwokers out of a workforce of approximately 1300, and they are scattered throughout the mill, separated from each other in a predominately male workplace. [See Sam's paper on consent decree]

Women


Some of the men remembered the times before women worked there:
"There were no women working at the time, and if you were working up high or something and you had to relieve yourself, you just peed." --Mike Bratina, retired Steelworker

Women were generally not welcomed or encouraged:
"Women? Oh, they're a pain in the neck...they couldn't do this, they couldn't do that. They couldn't pick this up. You'd get one or two to be as strong as an ox, but the majority of them, "Oh, I can't do that." "Go help her here, go help her." Do it yourself if you're going to work there. Do it yourself." --Mike Stubljar, retired Steelworker

"Another thing that I think hurt the Bethlehem Steel Company was the hiring of females...Females did not, could not do their fair share..." --Joe Inbrognio, retired Steelworker

But other men were more tolerant toward the opposite sex:
"Towards the end I had women helpers, and they were better than men at times...If the gal was up to snuff, you had to accept her." --Mike Bratina, retired Steelworker

Of course women steelworkers saw things from a very different perspective:

"I started working in the stell mill in 1974, I had worked pretty much in factories up until that time...I read in the newspaper that Bethlehem Steel and other steel companies were ordered to hire women due to a law suit by the NAACP.... I found out that the court order was for race and sex...they had to have women, so many blacks an dso many Hispanics in various trades as well as women...because women had been excluded wholesale....And the company decided that white women would be the easiest people to deal with and manipulate and the workers would not treat us as badly as other or whatever. And so they were really heavily recruiting white women for these apprenticeship jobs....

"I started in the roll shop. Not the bakery, the roll shop is where they turn rolls. Turning is a way of cutting metal on lathe...it wasn't a particularly hard job, it was dirty and heavy and all that. But I stayed there for less than a year and they laid me off. And while I was on lay off an apprenticeship opened at the machine shop and I signed a bid and won the bid to go into the machine shop....When I went to the machine shop it was diffferent. There was about 160 workers and half of the guys wouldn't speak to me at all. They were upset that a woman could do this job and they actually didn't believe that a woman could or should have this opportunity and thye literally refused to speak to me or any other women in the apprenticeship. Then there was among the other half about 20 percent who would be supportive and the rest of them were fairly neutral--they wouldn't do anything obnoxious but they wouldn't go out of their way to help us either. And that was the situation that we faced. We had to learn....But it was an incrediability hostile atmosphere and it was an incredibly racist atmosphere....

"Most of my factory experiences up until this time were in primarily female work places. And in this work place of course I ended up interacting with a lot of guys. And they probably wouldn't believe this but I became rather sympathetic to a lot of their situation. Its hard work, it was hard for me as a woman in a situation where I was wlecome because of my sex. But it was hard work for all of them too."
Liz Hrenda Roberts, first woman machinist Steelton Plant----class interview

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