Saturday, March 12, 2011

My first Union

Between my early college years (1965-1968), I worked summers at Armco Steel, one summer in labor reserve, one as plant mail delivery, and one as a fabricator in the tubing division as a member of the Armco Employee's Independent Federation (AEIF). Though they would later be locked out by AK Steel ( a reformation of Armco), starting a prolonged labor action to fend off the company theft of their pension benefits (sound familiar?), at the time I worked in the AEIF they had never been on strike. They would work through a United Steelworkers' strike; in return, the company would agree to terms of the national union's contract without suffering the pain of a strike. The AEIF was originally formed in 1944. Aside from the summer as a mail clerk, this was incredibly physical and dangerous work but, the pay over 12 weeks of summer was enough to finance my education, tuition, room, and spending money for 9 months. Every summer I worked there they had a work fatality, one summer there was more than one. A couple years after I left there were 11 in one year. Those kind of summer jobs don't exist any more. I graduated without a single student loan. (they weren't even available until my last years in school and then they weren't designed to be a huge profit center for private banks).

At the time Armco was the 5th biggest steel maker in the country. John B. Tytus, with a degree in English Literature from Yale, had invented the process to roll wide sheets of steel in huge quantities back in the 20s. His plant was still in operation when I worked there and witnessed its operation. He died of a heart attack in 1944, the year the AEIF was formed. At that time Tytus's rolling mill provided 60% of the skin for General Motor's cars off that line. Armco had also invented the corrugated pipe that became the standard for drainage and culverts nationwide. American Steel was in its prime. Armco offered any employees classes in metallurgic sciences, math, science, public speaking, engineering (on their own time of course). My dad took advantage of these and rose through the ranks in the white collar "time study" department to become an industrial  engineer and, by the time I got there, head of industrial engineering. He never attended college (he was never a union man). But he enjoyed the union negotiated health benefits (without co-pays) and pension plan. He also enjoyed a subsidized company stock purchase plan (Armco Stock only) as a white collar worker.
A close friend of his who retired about the same time as dad converted all his to AT&T. Dad, ever loyal to the company, held onto the Armco stock. The friend made out. Dad's stock lost 90% of it's value within 10 years. That 10 years will be the point of my next post, or "the nearsightedness of overpaid management", or the "overpaid workers" excuse for stupidity.

1 comment:

  1. The photo thumbnail is the great Edward Weston's "Steel Mill", shot in 1941. It is of the entrance to the Armco Plant in Middletown, Ohio. That's pretty much how it looked in 1966 when I went to work there. Those buildings are gone now.