Bethlehem Gave Up the Ghost

“We saw the writing on the wall, we knew it was coming.”

Produced by Rich Elliott.

Transcript for Bethlehem Gave Up the Ghost

Bethlehem Steel’s a conglomeration of other steel plants that were merged or brought in from other areas. And it was all back east—you had Maryland, you had New York, you had Pennsylvania. You had all of these other companies, and here’s Bethlehem Steel in Indiana. We got all the reports from home office, and even though we were not in charge of employment, we were in charge of the workforce and how many people were there. You could see the development. You could see where the money was being spent and where it was being unnecessarily spent especially.

Bethlehem liked its parties and every time somebody got promoted, there was a big party. At one time we had a lodge way out in the country, not too from far from where I live now. A beautiful lodge, huge fireplace, out in the woods. We would have caterers come in with beautiful steaks and drinks, and we had to sit out there in that lodge and toast this person that’s getting elevated to some position back east. And we got to watch that evolve slowly into—”Well, we’ll take you out to McDonald’s tonight, the three or four of us.”

We saw the writing on the wall, we knew it was coming. When there was a raise for the hourly worker, there wasn’t money enough to satisfy the raise, so the exempts, the smaller exempts, me, not the big bosses, but the smaller exempts, had to take a pay cut, so I took a 15% cut on my pay to pay for that raise for the union people.

It came down to a competitive point with others steel mills that we had to embrace the computer, and when we did, we had to let people go because there was no job for them anymore. By the time that Bethlehem Steel got down to it, we were down to maybe five or six thousand out of 14,000 that worked there.

But, uh, there were strikes. Some people got locked in. They were taken care of, they were fed, they were clothed, they brought in food from the outside, and they got extra pay for staying over and being locked in. Somehow I escaped that.

They eliminated my job. I got so good at using the computer, they didn’t need me anymore. And it was time to go. I was ready to go. I’d already told them in fact that come June, I’m retiring, and they decided to retire me early, in January. There was a reason for that: if I worked one day into the new year, they had to pay me six weeks of vacation. So anyway, it was maybe six months after they retired me that Bethlehem finally declared bankruptcy and gave up the ghost. And ISG bought them out, and then ISG was absorbed just a year or two later by ArcelorMittal. So I never really got to see that transition.

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