“I did every job that every guy could do… Sometimes I did it better.”
Natalie Johnson was one of the first women to work in the Mobile Equipment section of Sparrows Point Steel Mill. After transferring from housekeeping, she became a Slab Carrier Operator and an advocate for women’s rights at the plant. From demanding a separate locker room for women to change in, to standing up for herself on a daily basis, Natalie was a force to be reckoned with at the Mill. Natalie talks in her interview about her time at the plant as a woman and discusses the horrific injuries and deaths that she witnessed during her 15 years of work. The closing of Sparrows Point breaks the pattern of many generations of Natalie’s family who worked at the Mill. (Written by Samantha Hawkins, UMBC student)
Hi my name is Natalie, I’m the end of the steelworkers. I had 15 years– I worked at Mobile Equipment – one of the few women that were in Mobile Equipment… It’s been rough. With starting and finishing, it’s been rough. ‘Cause being a woman in the steel mill is not easy at all.
We went from people selling, people going around telling people they slept with you, you couldn’t do anything, you did this, you did that. And the whole time, you were home! You know, then you had the people that if you didn’t do what they wanted to do, they’d make up stuff to try to get you in trouble and things like that. Some of the women down there you could talk to them and they’d be like whatever. Then you’d have the ones that’d go okay he offended me, then you have people like me—I’m going to give it back to you. And that changed a lot because once you start pushing back at the guys, they will back down. It wasn’t that you was going to say any old thing and I’m just going to crumble and run to the supervisor and go “Oh, ooh he said this to me, my feelings are so hurt.” No, I was the one that was going to push back you might have run and told on me.
When I first started in ‘95, I had no locker room personally to myself, you know. I had to – I wasn’t actually in the locker room with the guys but there was like a section off, but it was still in the same building. Which that was totally uncomfortable, especially when you have to take your clothes off. But, after a while went on I protested and got on my soapbox, they got me a trailer.
And when they first hired me I started in housekeeping—which most women did. Why, I don’t know, but we all started in housekeeping. And I said, though, on my first day on the job, I was like “how can I make more money?” ‘Cause I didn’t like housekeeping. So then I went to Mobile Equipment where I was told certain things like “you can’t do this job” or “you’re not equipped for this job” but overall I did every job that every guy could do– without hesitation. Sometimes I did it better. (Edited by Samantha Hawkins)