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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We’re hearing a lot these days about how to unravel the mysteries of the foods we eat and why this matters.

Farmers markets are sprouting like weeds in cities around the country. First lady Michelle Obama has become America’s first gardener, too, touting tomatoes tended in White House soil and promoting a new book about healthy eating. Just last week, I visited a food bank in Columbus, Ohio, that, with the help of high-school students, will harvest its own crop of organic vegetables.

If we know where our food comes from, the theory goes, we’ll have greater respect for the people who grow and raise it. We’re also likelier to care more about what we’re shoveling into our bodies whenever we lift fork to mouth.

I wish we had this same growing awareness about manufacturing. Most of us have no idea what goes into making the things we take for granted in this country. Everything we use comes from somewhere and is made by somebody. If we knew more about the process and the men and women behind it, we’d be less likely to fall for partisan attempts to dehumanize Americans who still work with their hands.

My father was a utility worker at the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. He made electricity. My mother loved pointing that out whenever she saw us switch on a light or turn on the TV.

“You can thank your dad for that,” she’d say, her face beaming with pride.

Never mind that Dad was one of hundreds wearing their bodies out in the bowels of that plant on Lake Erie. As far as Mom was concerned, her husband was the sole reason we weren’t eating in the dark. For years, she took food out of the oven with her Reddy Kilowatt potholders and twisted off lids with her Reddy Kilowatt jar openers.

To this day, six years since my father’s death, whenever a storm knocks out the power, my mind goes immediately to all the utility workers like my dad getting called back in to work.

Last week, I visited a steel mill in Cleveland. It’s had too many names to list, but for years, everyone in town knew it as LTV Steel. ArcelorMittal bought the mill in 2003. It runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the caster mill is the heat. The 20-ton, red-hot slabs of steel rolling out of those furnaces are as hot as 1,500 degrees and take five to six days to cool.

The second thing you notice is the camaraderie among the burly steelworkers in goggles and fire-retardant shirts. Their jobs are a lot safer than they used to be, but it’s still dangerous work.

“We’re always looking out for each other,” Dan Boone told me. “We understand that if we’re standing here talking, somebody else is watching our back.”

Art Stone put an even finer point on it: “This isn’t like an auto plant,” he said. “Here you’ve got 270 tons of molten steel passing over your head.”

Stone started at the mill Aug. 7, 1955. He was a Korean War veteran from Massachusetts looking for work, when a friend mentioned family members working at the steel mill in Cleveland.

  • ObozoMustGo

    Nice article, Connie. Cheers to your father, and God bless the workers of America!

    Have a nice day!

    • metrognome3830

      Nice reply, OMG. It’s good to see your other side. It was a good article, wasn’t it? I still look back with pride to the days I worked in newspaper composing rooms, putting together the type and ads and pages, working with my hands to help produce a newspaper every day. Operating that mechanical marvel, the Linotype, assembling the ads and the pages. In the summer, the old mercury thermometer would ascend to the top of the tube and stay there from June to, sometimes, October. But there was always a good feeling seeing the newspaper coming off the press and on the way to the readers.

      Have a great day!

      • ObozoMustGo

        metro… yes it was a good article. Not the usual Connie Shultz hit piece or whine about oppressed women piece we are accustomed to.

        You were an old linotype guy?????? OMG… [no, not my name]… Were you a Mergenthaler guy? Or a Heidelberger guy? My wife’s uncle worked at a Mergenthaler location in Brooklyn for a lot of years doing whatever it was they did on those machines. He’s close to 90 now, but still proud of his days there. It’s sort of cute to hear him still talk of it. And it’s great to see you’re sense of pride in your work, as well.

        Being a pressman used to be a great job. But digitization of everything has changed all that. And I’m not so sure we have even begun to scratch the surface of this “progress” yet.

        Have a great weekend, my friend!

        • metrognome3830

          I was a Mergenthaler guy. I think I may have my old Linotype manual stored away in a box somewhere. I also worked on the press crew of a Goss 64-page rotary newspaper press and as a stereotyper (no, not the kind that makes snap judgments) casting the lead plates for the press. Eventually, I became a Linofilm operator (Mergenthaler’s phototypesetting version), cameraman, floorman, etc. Then I moved into commercial advertising typography. It was an interesting journey and I was sad to see it end. I tried my hand in a sign business but never really prospered. So I finished up my working life driving transit buses for King County Metro Transit. I never felt it was a step down. I took pride in being the best bus driver I could be and I enjoyed doing that for 8+ years.

          Hope you have a great weekend! I’ll be looking for you Monday.

          • ObozoMustGo

            metro… just got into work this morning following a funeral service 🙁 and found your message. I figured you for a Mergenthaler guy! hehehehehe. You had a great career, my friend. What a wonderful ride. I hope that I can be as successful in my life as you have been in yours. I’m mid 40’s, so I have another 20+ years to go, or more. Retirement will be very different for my generation, I’m afraid, so I’m doing my best to pad my nest, but it’s an uphill battle. You are a good man, metro, and I find that I am quite fond of you from our discussions. Your taking pride in your work, no matter what it was, is a fine indication of your strong character and positive outlook on life, and you have my eternal admiration.

            Have a great weekend, my friend!

          • metrognome3830

            Thanks OMG, I think most of the people are good. Most of them want to work. And I think most of them do their jobs to the best of their ability. I’m sure you do. I expect the outlook is rather grim for a person of your age right now. I have kids in you age bracket. One who just lost his job after 15 years with the same employer. But that’s what keeps me protesting and raising hell about people like Scott Walker and what I feel is nothing but naked union busting. He already had concessions from the unions on health insurance and pension benefits. By his own admission his other moves — annual votes on union membership, limiting collective bargaining and disbanding the collection of dues — didn’t save the taxpayers one dime. I worry about what is happening to family wage jobs — union or non-union, blue collar, white collar . . . whatever.

            I hope you had a good weekend, my friend.

            Now get back to work! Heh, heh, heh.

          • ObozoMustGo

            Hey metro! Weekend was slow. Too darned hot on Saturday… (I know, we dont know what hot is in the North East compared to AZ) but to us 94 is HOT.

            I am sorry to hear about your son. That sucks. What does your son do?

            Regarding Walker, I have a different perspective. Big Labor’s national crusade to crucify Governor Scott Walker was really payback for taking away their right to force government employees to accept their “representation” and to pay union dues whether they like it or not. 40% of union members even voted for Walker!!!

            What really pissed off union officials was that Walker dared to give public servants the right to decide for themselves whether or not to join or pay dues to government unions. So-called “collective bargaining rights” and bloated public pensions and were just red herrings. That’s why when given the choice, workers fled from AFSME like Japanese people fled from the Fukashima Nuke. When given the freedom, public servants have rushed for the exits. In Indiana, 91% of workers fled the union when given the chance.

            That is what enraged Big Labor’s chieftains and prompted one of the biggest political crusades in history. Altogether, Organized Labor poured an estimated $20 million (all subsidized of course with forced union dues receipts) into their latest attack.

            The long and the short of it is, people should be free to choose to be in the union or not. The union bosses are losing their free rides on the gravy train their workers have been financing for decades. THAT is what pisses them off.

            While I worry about family jobs as much as you do, clearly the way to NOT accomplish objectives of strong employment is to put the burden of public employees’ lavish pay and benefit packages on the backs of regular working people in the private sector. People who are struggling already. What about them? Until Walker, no one was looking out for them.

            The best way to insure jobs for families is to insure that there are enough employers that compete for the services of workers. Labor is another input to business like materials or capital. The greater the demand for the input, the higher the price. I know you guys on the left dont like to admit this, but you only have to look at North Dakota to see what happens when you have near 100% employment. There are laborers with NO skill there making $50k – $70K while they become skilled. Skilled guys that work on trucks and diesel equipment are making north of $100K. The number one advertisement in ND is “Help Wanted”. Wages are very high in these environments. This is the goal for the country.

            Now, I get it. I understand where this desire to control everything for the benefit of the “little guy” comes from, but reality and facts, when examined fairly, reveal a very different picture. The vast majority of indivuals DONT need government help. They need opportunity. They can take care of themselves just fine and they are not that stupid as the left thinks they are. And opportunity does NOT come from government programs or politicians or bureaucrats. It comes from the private sector. That’s where the economy grows. The private sector.

            If we want more people working, we have to agree that the government is just an impartial referee of the game, not a participant that picks winners and losers and throws his weight around to influence the play. That’s what we have today. Rather, all the government needs to do is to create an environment where risk taking and success are rewarded without fear of confiscation through taxation or excessive regulation. Create an environment that invites the flow of capital from all over the world to a low cost, lower risk, high return opporunity country and you will see the job market explode. This is what will create opportunities for your son and others and will result in rising wages for families in real terms, not inflated.

            I have to run. Have a great day, my friend!

          • metrognome3830

            Well I guess I need some time to martial my ideas into a cogent defense of my position. As usual, we have areas of agreement, but also areas of total disagreement. I think Scott Walker survived recall not only because he has a strong base of support. I think he survived because even people who do not like him, voted against recall rather than for Walker. I have mixed feelings about recall elections. Most of the time they do not achieve anything positive. They should be reserved only in response to a serious crime. Not because one is unhappy with the policies. And I think a good number of Wisconsinites voted to retain Walker, but he better show some spectacular results, or he will be a one-term governor. And, there are rumblings that he may have some problems with the law down the road. I have no horse in this race, I’m just a spectator, so I can only opine about what will be or what has been, in the minds of the Wisconsin voters.

            As for union members fleeing the collective bargaining unit, that has always been and always will be a problem. It’s just human nature. Some people are quite content to reap the benefits but equally reluctant to pay the dues. You have a point in that some unions have overstepped their boundaries. But that doesn’t reflect the majarity of unions. The argument that there are “union bosses” making $300K + per year — probably true in some of the larger unions. But why is that any more out of line than a CEO making $300K + per year. They both have executive level positions and responsibilities. I frankly don’t know if there are, in fact, union bosses making that kind of money, but I would surmise that they would represent a very small minority. Maybe I will do some research on Union executive’s salaries. It will give me something to do. But your point that union members are leaving the unions is valid. They are. Times have been too good for them. Now they are feeling empowered. Now you hear that age-old chant, “I don’t need no stinkin’ union to hold my job!” As I have said, I have been employed in union shops and non-union shops. I know how it works. I was just ornery enough to be able to hold my own in negotiating working conditions for myself, but not everyone can. And as the unions are weakened, those who can’t will find out just how well they can do on their own. I will be laying around the “Active Adult Community” pool, taking my dog to the dog park and planning my getaway for a few weeks from the summer Arizona heat. And I don’t feel one damn bit guilty about it. Who says I don’t deserve it. 🙂

            Have a great day, OMG!

            P.S. My son managed a restaurant. He actually didn’t like the job. His real interest is in being an artist/writer, but it paid the bills. I have advised him that since his son will graduate from high school in a year, he should put more effort into his art and writing. So now he is getting a Class A CDL and hopes to be an over-the-road trucker. How is that for an artistic career? But, it’s a noble profession and the pay is good.

  • Ed

    This nation was not built on the greed of bankers but on the sweat of workers.

    • joyscarbo

      He was also probably a union member at one time or another as well…right?

    • ObozoMustGo

      Ed… those bankers financed those workers projects. No one working man is more noble than the other. Every person that works plays a role, my friend. Both labor and capital are equally required for economic growth.

      Have a nice day!

  • SaneJane

    Getting one’s hands dirty from honest, productive work use to be a matter of pride. The conservatives have attacked education, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, women, blacks, Hispanics, LGBT and now workers. Is there anyone left for them to go after next? Who is voting for these people and why?

  • ( the USA Workers

  • The USA workers are what made these corporations over the years,and how fast that fact is forgotten by the CEO and Owners. Now they insult Us even more by using that money for Super pacs to have gov. more beholding. The Shame they should be feeling is beyond expression.. but, Shame isn`t in their vocabulary. They aren`t as Mitt says.. People !!! that is an Insult to every American Worker.

  • Darlene MiddleAgeMom

    My Dad was a steelworker; he shoveled coal into the furnace at the mill for many years, until the plant closed and he was forced to leave PA for NJ and a different kind of factory job. After a year of seeing him only on weekends, our family relocated to NJ, where his new job was; he made tape. I think of him every time I stick a piece of tape on a package. My Dad was my hero, the quiet man who worked hard to provide for his family; he died 6 years ago.

  • being the eldest daughter of a SteelWorker who died with lung cancer in 1988 and whom I still miss…. He worked as “PipeFitter” at J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, Pa. (also had an uncle and myGrandfather was the Foreman);……. I did visit inside the mill many years ago around 1960.

    I can relate as many and have seen the results from accidents, etc.

    Mary Palmino

  • I enjoyed your article, I’m from Charleroi, Pa and I know what your are saying about the steel mills. I too knew a lot of people that put a lot of sweat into their jobs and were quite proud at the end of the day.

    My best wishes for your husband’s continued run in the senate.