Steel Industry – Before & After the Union

Throughout this essay, I will describe the differences workers experienced in the steel industry “before the union” and “after the union.” In addition, I will discuss what I believe were the most important changes workers experienced.

According to Metzgar, “before the union,” his father “worked, very irregularly without a union for seven terrible years…. Metzgar’s grandfather and his peers were decimated by industrial accidents while others ground down overtime into drunkenness and demoralization” (Metzgar, p. 6)

After the union, Metzgar testified “he saw nothing but improvements – overtime, dramatic improvements – in every aspect of his life. His father retired at the age of fifty-six and lived comfortably on a steelworker’s pension, with steelworkers’ health insurance, even spending the winter months in Florida! No regular guy in the history of the world had seen the material conditions of his life improve more dramatically” (Metzgar, p. 6)

There you have it – in Metzgar’s own words in the preceding two paragraphs – illustrations of the ‘before the union’ era and the ‘after the union’ era. In the following paragraphs we will explore the most important changes workers experienced.

In total agreement with Metzgar, workers experienced dignity and respect which they lacked before the union. For example, Metzgar told the story of the foreman who fired an employee because he refused to allow his daughter to date him. According to Metzgar’s father, the anger wasn’t about the termination (out of work) but about the indignities the employee suffered in his inability to tell the foreman – no – without any varnish. Unionism was able to take away a foreman’s power of ‘life & death’ and transferred it to the impersonal contract (even which the company had to abide….)

Secondly, Metzgar mentioned his grandfather’s industrial accident whereas he lost both arms. He suffered the indignity of having someone scratching his itches. He had to survive on a monthly disability of $30. The Union changed that by providing healthcare (whereas, a disabled employee has access to free prosthetic limbs), and a substantial disability insurance plan.

Thirdly, Metzgar mentioned that a worker would work until he is in his fifties. In his fifties, he would become less productive due to aches and the malevolent weather (e.g., cold) whereas he would be ‘pushed out the door’ after so many years of being pushed to be productive. With the Union, Metzgar’s father was able to retire at the age of fifty-six years old. He was financially secure and comfortable. He had two homes in two different states; cars, and etc.

Fourthly, the FLSA and the NLRA benefitted the working class many times over. It created more work for more people with shorter hours; shorter work week and early retirement incentives. Metzgar argued, also, how the important changes brought out by the unions benefitted the community at large by increasing the spending power of the working class – a spending power that translated into more jobs and igniting (via investments) new industries (like computers).

In conclusion, I could write a book (but I’m limited by time) about the differences workers experienced in the steel industry “before the Union” and “after the Union” which I borrowed from Metzgar, himself, and my own opinion as it pertains to the most important changes workers experienced.