“The community will be feeling the effects for a long time, but the one constant will be the people.”
Reflecting on the closure of Bethlehem Steel, Paula Fleming feels a lot of emotion after having devoted over 15 years at the mill. She began her career in 1996 in the plate mill as a part of the “labor gang”, where she feels most people are expected to start. After the plate mill closed, she then proceeded to work for the inspection department, then for the “L” stock house, and finally within the tin mill, where she remained for 10 years until the plant closed. Paula had always been concerned for the worker’s facilities, so she was appointed as the Safety Coordinator and Union Liaison to make sure everyone could be safe. The plant was a tough and dangerous place to work, but it “afforded everybody who worked there a really good living, put a lot of people through college, bought a lot of homes, did a lot of wonders for the economy – for the surrounding neighborhoods.” Paula has been very active in her union as the co-chair of Women of Steel and a member on the Civil Rights Committee. She achieved the position of Trustee in the union right before the mill closed. “Even though the Point is not there, I’m still pro-union all the way; I think that’s the way to go.” (Written by Jennie Williams, Maryland Traditions intern and UMBC student)
My name is Paula Fleming and I worked at the Point for 15 1/5 years. I started in October of ’96 in the plate mill, and I was in the labor gang. I think thats where everybody goes when they first started. When a job opened up, I bid on it and I went to the inspection department. I worked on the hot bed inspecting the steel plates for defects, gauge. Stayed there until the plate mill actually closed two years later. When that happened I needed a new home and so when I went to “L” stock house and that’s where they get all the incoming materials to feed the furnace. Stayed there for two years, and then bid over into the tin mill, which is where I stayed until the plant closed.
I had several feelings. I’m still feeling. Anger. Sadness. Depression. A lot of anger. When everybody gets hired down there its like “Yeah, I made it.” You knew you were going to be able to make the money to have a decent lifestyle. So, by the plant closing, that now puts my lifestyle in jeopardy.
It was a tough place to work. It was a dangerous place to work. But, like I said, it afforded everybody a really good living, put a lot of people through college, bought a lot of homes, did a lot of wonders for the economy for the surrounding neighborhoods.
The union was a big part of my life and the union afforded me a lot of things I probably wouldn’t have had opportunity to do. Even though the Point is not there, I’m still pro-union all the way. I think thats the way to go.
As far as women’s rights, we stopped being second-class citizens, they wouldn’t delegate us to the menial lower-paying jobs, we had the opportunity to do what the guys did. If you could physically do the job, then you could have the job. Civil rights, they were big strides. When my grandfather used to work there, there was a segregated type of workforce. Most of the black people had to work in the dirty lower-paying jobs but through time and through pressure management started to blend the different jobs and it was accessible for everybody. A lot of money went up and down North Point Boulevard. People feeding the stores, I mean, the little mom and pop shops, they’re going to have a hard time surviving now.
What will remain is the close ties that we’ve made. The friendships. The jobs are gone, the community will be feeling the effects for a long time, but the one constant will be the people.