"Security, a voice, dignity. Some power in the workplace. The ability to...make change happen and have influence. At one time, I think it meant a lot more in terms of brotherhood...I think we've lost a lot of that...Times have changed...There was a time when people understood very clearly that they had to stick together to get anywhere. In today's world, people think that the only way you get anwhere is to be an individual...So [we]re fighting an ideological tide there.Ike Gittlen, President, Local 1688
"...everybody looks at unions as just...an organziation that...negotiates higher wages and benefits. But it's more than that. It's unions that maintain the standard of living for all workers, non-union and union. It's unions that maintains the dignity in the workplace for workers. Its unions that maintains the overall acceptance of workers by management people. And without unions...there would be a slaughter, so to speak, of working people by today's management." Greg Bowers, Vice President, Local 1688
The strength of any union is unity and its ability to bargain collectively for large groups of workers. During the prosperous years, Steelton's employees contract with management was part of the Bethlehem Steel Master Agreement, which in turn was part of the Coordinated Committee Steel Companies (CCSC), a structure which collectively bargained for the entire industry. With its mandate to negotiate on behalf of every American steelworker under a single contyract, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) wielded enormous power.
As a result of financial troubles in the steel industry, the CCSC disintegrated and each major steel company began negotiated separate agreements. In a further attempt to divide and conquer, Bethlehem transofrmed the Steelton facility into a subsidiary and established an independent contract with Local #1688 in 1992. In order to ensure the site's survival, the union would have to modify their demands and enter into concessionary bargaining.
In exchange for an $80 million technology investment and the conservation of existing pensions and benefits, the uinion in Steelton accepted a wage freeze and specific job eliminations.
"Our goal in pursuing internships and interviews with the Union this semester was to gain an understanding of the policies and procedures of the Union and characterize its impact on the members it represents. Our immersion into life there however, showed us that the web of politics and logistical concerns was far too complex for us to [completely] grasp in a six week study. We found ourselves turning to the people that keep the Union running, who struggle daily to represent those working in the mill in hopes of guaranteering them safe working conditions, equal opportunities, and reasonable compensation...The coming days would show us that our backgrounds only prove to mask the similalrities found in us as unique human individuals, bound by the same fundamental needs. We discovered the link in our desire to seek betterment for those less fortunate than ourselves, and this basic understanding allowed us to dig into the hearts of those we met." Mosaic Student Interns
The Dislocated Worders' Center is a facility that allows the unemployed an avenue through which to compile and distrubute their resume, to discuss their options for work in another field, and to build on their networking leads. Jim Young is currently in charge of this program.
Erica: When was the Dislocated Workers' Center established here?
Jim: I don't know exactly, but it's been here for sevral years. It was created because of a major layoff which infact, many people assumed to ve the beginning of the end for the steelworkers here. It turned out that wasn't the case. But there've been perhaps 300 people who've come through this Dislocated Workers' Center at one time or another because of major restructuring going on in the corporation.
The grievance procedure is one that allows steelworkers to ask for Union assistance in making their working conditions safer and less onerous. Legitimate grievances are based on contract violations, federal or state law violations, and past practice violations. The grievance system is maintained by an extensive group of union officials, and plant workers. When Greg Reese first became involved as a Grievance Commiteeman in the early 1980s (he is currently chairman of this committee), there were over 1000 cases clogging the system. By working closely with those at the department level, he has effectively reduced the number of complaints to 36.