“You leave your family at home but when you walked into that steel mill, you adopted another family.”
“I am a 75 year old survivor of Sparrows Point,” said LeRoy McClelland, Sr.,as he introduces himself. LeRoy retired in 2001 after having devoted 45 years to Sparrows Point before Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt. LeRoy learned a year later that the retirees would have lost their retirement benefits, until the union negotiated and achieved half the original amount of their pensions. LeRoy began his career with Bethlehem Steel in 1955 as a tractor operator when he was 25 years old after he had completed his service with the US Navy. He is a father, but he admits that his second family consists of his close friends from the Mill and with the union. LeRoy’s experience has developed his critical view of the politics of government and technology because he deeply cares about how these changes will affect the working men and women of our country. “You put your heart and soul into the operation and into the product. That’s how much concern we had and we knew if nothing went out that door, we would have nothing on our table, it’s as simple as that.” (Written by Jennie Williams, Maryland Traditions intern and UMBC student)
My name is Leroy R. McClelland, I am a 75 year-old survivor of Sparrows Point.
I spent 45 years at Sparrows Point before Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt. Now we retired, well I did in 2001 only to learn in 2002 that they were going bankrupt which meant that we would lose our pensions, we lost our health coverage and any other benefits that was available for us. They assured us that we would get half our pension, and that turned out to be what PBG was all about and at that point they argued with us as RG Steel stuck it to the members of our union disability here.
My son who was 18 years down there, lost his job. He’s lost his home, the whole nine yards and the only thing that survives is the TAA that makes available training for advancement in other areas of employment.
But back to myself, I raised 3 children, 3 boys and a girl and it wasn’t easy back then in 1955. When I went into Sparrows point they ended up going on a 1959 strike.
What it did was put a lot of us on our toes about what is organized labor and what it really means. And it means that one looks after the other. Because we learned as time went on that you can’t walk into a Steel mill by yourself. You have to have support and commonality in the middle. And that developed over a couple of years as a second family.
You leave your family at home but when you walked into that steel mill you adopted another family. You felt comfortable. You felt safe, even though the horrors of the steel mill was there to deal with every day. It’s one of those situations where you’re thankful for having an organization like the still workers that also carried out onto the streets.
We would talk about the tough day we had. We would talk about the crew before us.
That’s what motivated us, it kept us moving into the direction that we were in. As time went on we learned to think that it was a negative thing to us being hands on workers when technology came. When computerization came in, they looked at operations and said, “well do we need this feeder there, do we need this feeder here” when we could have it automated.
Automation is what started to take our membership down. In fact, we went from 33,000 members down to this group, 2000, and a lot of it had to do with technology. Something that this generation today begins to depend on technology, where if you ask him to look at a clock that has hands on it to tell you the time they have a problem looking at that. If it’s not digital they can’t tell you the time.
As time went on for us, we tried to adapt to the change from what the hands on operation was to the technology part of it.
When I first went to Fells Point I was coming out of the United States Navy. And was told that the best place to go to work was Bethal Steel. And I said well how do you do that? So I went down there and the only thing that was open was a tractor trailer operator. So im 21 years old now… Im not 21 im 25, and Im looking at this and say, “Tractor? Shit that looks good to me. So I go ahead and they hire me on, brought us to the tractor department.
As time went on they trained me on how to operate this thing. The toughest thing for me was to adapt to the idea that there was no steering wheels. They had bars to do your steering. There was no floor type of petals to give you speed or break; it was all on top to do that. So as time went on, the operation was amazing to see how it went on.
Well as far as im concerned, the whole spear that caused the steel to go into bankruptcy was something that was pretty much thought out because they wanted to eliminate the environmental and steel operation at Sparrows Point because of the pollution issue. It has always been a touchy subject at Sparrows Point because you see that red puffy smoke in the air and say, “whats that?” That was lead and stud when you were processing the metal.
It created a bit of a stir within the communities at the same time, the same community that depended on Sparrows Point because of the small buisnesses that were around there.
They were looking for a way to eliminate that operation down there, in amaaner where it wouldn’t cost a lot of turmoil. And in my opinion they succeeded in doing that because what I see coming down to Sparrows Point now is one of the largest to bring Frey ships in and unload. There would be a big lot section down there, and there was some talks about condos being there.
The sad part is to know that, that icon that was once Sparrows Point Steel Mill, will no longer be there. (Edited by Shanae Cole and Margaret Barker)