“The guy next to you wasn’t an employee, he was your best friend.”
As a mother, wife, and steelworker, Darlene Redemann gave 33 years to working at the Sparrows Point Steel Mill. During those 33 years, Darlene made an impact paving the way for future women steel workers as the first female union representative. She fought hard to make changes at the Mill, especially when it came to discrimination. Darlene recalls that “a lot of the women back then were really discriminated against big time… they’d say they have to pick up 75 pounds to remain in the mill well you had men that couldn’t pick up 75 pounds.” Her efforts won the case among many other issues she had a hand in resolving. Her work both in the Mill and with the union brought her in contact with many people to whom she still feels a strong bond . “The fondest memory I have is the men and women that I worked with”. To Darlene, the steelworkers are not just co-workers, they are her family. (Written by Meg Davis, UMBC student)
My name is Darlene Redemann, I worked at Sparrows Point Plant for 33 years. I retired in 2008 due to medical problems due to my back.
You stayed on your feet for eight solid hours and you got a sheet of steel flying past you 2,500 feet per minute. I mean Bethlehem Steel was one of the hardest environments that you could work in. I mean the hours that we worked, the extreme heat, and freezing cold, you worked Christmases, Fourth of July’s it didn’t matter.
I got involved in the union a year after I started at Bethlehem Steel. I started off, actually the first year I was here I became the shop steward, which you took care of your department only and then three years later I became the zone committee person and then I’ve had a lot of tittles as far as Safety committees, blood bank committees. I went to a lot of the international conventions. One of the conventions, that’s when we started the women of steel, and we brought that back to Sparrows Point Plant because a lot of the women back then were really discriminated against, big time. I mean, not as much as wage wise. You know they say they had to pick up 75 pounds in order to remain on the mill; well, you had men on the mill that couldn’t pick up 75 pounds. So we fought that, I fought that really long and hard and finally won that case.
But you had to worry about your pension, knowing that when you left Bethlehem Steel that you were going to have a future. So, you worked all the over time you possibly could to secure the fact that that’s the money you had to live with when you left, and we left and we lost all our money. And, that’s one thing I’ll just never ever understand, how can you say this is what I am going to give you and when I leave you don’t give it to me. You know so, its sad, it’s just really sad especially losing health care. I mean, like my husband worked there 37 years, I worked there 33 years and we don’t have any health care, c’mon.
Well, 2001 is when Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt so that was just the saddest thing. I mean we had people, you know I’d hate to say this we had people committing suicide, that’s how bad things got to a lot of people.
You know right here on Dundalk Avenue we have a big memorial with all the names of the people that were killed at the point, and I was there for four of them that I was the union rep at that time and had to investigate. And, that was nothing more horrible than you know, to see, you know what actually happens for a man that’s coming to work to support his family and never makes it home, it’s very sad. The guy next to you wasn’t an employee, he was your best friend; you knew everybody’s children, wives, I mean because if you weren’t family down there and stuck together you are going to get hurt, so you had to watch out for one another so that was the saddest part about leaving Bethlehem Steel, I had to leave all my friends behind.