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Gail Fleming

“I’m not going to miss the swing shift, but I am going to miss Bethlehem Steel…”

Gail Fleming began work at Bethlehem Steel April 16, 1979, but her experiences and memories of living in Turner Station (“across the pond” from the Mill) go back even further.  As a young girl, she recalls watching everyone leave to go to work at the Mill. Her family was very involved in the plant along with her neighbors that lived on Willow Court. She recalls that her neighborhood was told the days in which they should not put their laundry up to dry because the plant would be working full swing, and if they left their clothes out, they would be covered with the red dust that filled the air back then. Gail also speaks about her time at the Mill, starting out in the labor gang, working the coke ovens and also working as a plant helper in the gas pumping station, housekeeper for mobile equipment, and shop steward. Gail was also active in the Civil and Women’s Rights movements at the plant. Gail takes pride in her community and the fact that everyone knew everyone; she is very disappointed with the closing of the Mill and will miss the friendships she has developed, but noted that she will not miss the swing shift.  (Written by Rose Lewis and Jessica Moreno, UMBC students)

 

My name is Gail Fleming and I started work at Bethlehem Steel April 16 1979. I grew up in Turner Station across the pond from Sparrows Point and used to watch everybody leave to go to work and working down there I thought, really, I said, “Well this is where I’m going to make the big money!”

You’d  see all the red dust and look around and find out that on certain days they would notify them on what days they could put laundry out because if they put the laundry out on the day they weren’t supposed to they’d take the laundry in and it was covered in red dust. I could smell it, because it wasn’t that far.

Everybody knew everybody. Its just now that we have offsprings that I know their parents, I know their uncles and stuff but then the younger ones that come along, its like you have to give a name and they say well you know, oh okay I know your mom, I know your dad.

My father-in-law worked there, his brother, he had another brother, and my husband worked there. He was a police officer. It just went, like, say the family worked there, you could actually get a job working there. Mine was pretty good because I didn’t have to stand in the line. Being able to make the money that I needed to make in order to buy a house for my kids and myself in order to in order to progress. I became the first female dispatch operator, where the dispatcher would dispatch me out to different jobs when they call for different pieces of equipment. I had the run of the whole plant. I’m more like, I didn’t want to go to a certain department and get stuck in one area and at least in mobile equipment I got to go all over the whole plant.

There was difficulties, yes, starting out, in, say, labor gang, until you get everybody to start knowing who you are and what you’re made of and basically what you’re going to take and what you’re not going to take. So that’s when I started getting involved with the union and I became Shop Steward for many years. Then I was Civil Rights. Also, in 95 I attended the first Women’s International Steel Conference that they had in Las Vegas, then that’s how I got involved with the Women of Steel. We developed a camaraderie with one another. There’s a lot of us that we’re still close friends.

The point. I’m not going to miss the swing shift, now, I’m not going to tell a lie about that. Not going to miss the swing shift. But I will miss Bethlehem Steel and I will miss ISG, Mittel, you know, RG, whichever one, but I mostly recognize it as Bethlehem Steel and that was Sparrows Point. (Edited by Kristen Anchor)