Beyond Steel

Women of Bethlehem Steel - Judy Hoffert

0:00

Schennum: Okay, very good, so here we are on March 4 with Judy Hoffert and we are going to talk to Judy about her experiences as a wife of a steelworker amongst other things.

Judy Hoffert: Yes.

Schennum: So Judy I wonder if you could just start off by telling us about growing up in Bethlehem, I heard that your father had a meat market.

Judy Hoffert: Yes, my father owned the Ritter meat market and the sanitary food market. Been a resident of Bethlehem my whole life, until we were transferred to Baltimore and grew up here, went to schools here and only knew about life in Bethlehem.

Schennum: So, you grew up on the North Side of Bethlehem.

1:00

Judy Hoffert: Yes.

Schennum: And your father had a meat market, butcher shop initially, right?

Judy Hoffert: Right.

Schennum: And you/he did deliveries?

Judy Hoffert: Yes, he, we had a butcher truck with his name on the side and he used to go around to the neighborhoods ringing a bell like the ice cream trucks do today and the women would come out of their houses with their aprons on, cause all women were home in those days, and they would buy whatever kind of meat that they wanted right off the truck, there was butcher block on the truck that he would cut the meat right on and they would come and buy the groceries and I would be sitting there in the seat beside him thinking I was big thing, I was about six years old and then I would work at the store and my whole teenage [?] where I met my husband, he worked at the store too.

Schennum: Okay, so when you were growing up this was like a family-owned business and it was a thrill for you to go out and . . .

2:00

Judy Hoffert: Right.

Schennum: Who were the clients of your . . .

Judy Hoffert: You know I remember them being the wealthier people of Bethlehem. I used to go along on the deliveries of the groceries too, they could call into the store and they could get an order of groceries delivered right to their house and I used to ride along with the delivery man and there was some big, big houses. I thought some of them were executives from Bethlehem Steel and people that could afford things like that. And they always got, of course, the best cuts of meats and the best of everything and my father specialized in that and we used to ride along and deliver to these houses and I just wanted to see the houses so that's why I rode along and it was a big thrill then.

Schennum: Did you ever get to go inside the houses? Or people always came out?

3:00

Judy Hoffert: I did, I did, when we did a grocery delivery we went right inside the house.

Schennum: And so what did you think about that, this sort of real difference in wealth right here in your city?

Judy Hoffert: Yes, yes, as a child you know I was just fascinated by the houses, by the size of the houses, you know, and how beautiful they were cause we didn't have a house anywhere near that, you know, but I didn't equate that happiness or anything, you know, but you just kind of knew that these people were the elite of the population of Bethlehem.

Schennum: So a lot of people . . . what year were you born?

Judy Hoffert: '53.

Schennum: '53, okay, so a lot of people think about you know families with businesses or working in the 50s and 60s and they have this image of the stay-at-home mom, but it sounds like your mother was very active in the business . . .

4:00

Judy Hoffert: Well, she worked at the store too. So that's why my brother and I really had to go along to the store, but I enjoyed, I enjoyed it and it had the old time cash registers and they used to put a crate there so I could step up and reach the buttons that's how young I was I started running the cash register, you know, and I just had a great time.

Schennum: You must have learned a lot about business.

Judy Hoffert: I did. I did and customer service because everybody, of course, would joke with me, you know, all the customers and I, to this day, I joke about how I remember cigarettes were 35 cents a pack and hundreds were 38 cents a pack. That's what they were when I began running the register that's the prices of cigarettes and when I see them today I [?] why do people smoke, you know.

Schennum: And then you father expanded his business, right?

Judy Hoffert: Well, he sold the Ritter meat market name to his brother, he moved over to sanitary food market on his own.

5:00

Schennum: Okay.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, and then that was his own business.

Schennum: Okay, so you were growing up in Bethlehem and then you went to high school.

Judy Hoffert: I went to Freedom High School.

Schennum: To Freedom High School and what were you thinking about in terms of your high school education, your jobs, what kind of expectations did your parents have for you.

Judy Hoffert: Well, they wanted me to go to college, but I just wanted to just wanted to get through school and get married because that's . . . we had gone together since I was 15 and so I wasn't looking to leave and go to college. So, then I got a job at Almart, everybody remembers Almart in the Lehigh Shopping Center.

Schennum: What is Almart?

Judy Hoffert: Almart was a huge department store in Lehigh Shopping Center, very well known in those days, I worked in the sales audit 6:00department there when we first got married and then, when I had my first child, I stopped working and I stayed home.

Schennum: Okay.

Judy Hoffert: Which Bethlehem Steel gave me the privilege to do because he was earning enough money that we could buy a house and I could stay home, I didn't have to work.

Schennum: So, tell me about meeting your husband.

Judy Hoffert: Well, he worked at my father's store, so . . .

Schennum: Was he in high school at the time also?

Judy Hoffert: He was, he was. It was the standing joke that he was dating the boss' daughter. We had fun, we had fun in those days cause in those days, you know, you used to go out and have a good time when you were dating, you would go bowling, you would go to movies, you would do things, you know, I don't know what the kids do nowadays, they get in trouble, we never got in any trouble, we didn't even think about it, you know.

Schennum: So you were going out from when you were quite young, you were going out, you were a couple, you were dating, you graduated from 7:00high school, you were working and then you decided to married and had your husband started at Bethlehem Steel, when did he start at Bethlehem Steel?

Judy Hoffert: He did, he started in '73.

Schennum: Okay and what was. . .

Judy Hoffert: We got married in '74.

Schennum: And you got married in '74 and what Jeff doing before he worked at Bethlehem Steel.

Judy Hoffert: He worked at Almart too and he was going to college, he went to college for a little bit, but then when he got the job at the Bethlehem Steel, he just, he didn't need college anymore, I mean the Bethlehem Steel was it. If you got in there, you had it made for life is what everybody thought and that's what we thought too, so he gave up going to college and just worked there.

Schennum: So he heard about this opening at Bethlehem Steel, they were [?] . . .

8:00

Judy Hoffert: They hired a whole lot of people that year, a whole lot of people all at once, they were all had the same start dates, you know.

Schennum: And those start dates became very important later when seniority was an issue.

Judy Hoffert: Yes, yes, absolutely.

Schennum: Okay, so both of you were working, you continued to work after you got married, and he was working at Bethlehem Steel, and what department was your husband working in initially?

Judy Hoffert: He was in the blast furnace.

Schennum: Okay, and was he working swing shift?

Judy Hoffert: Swing shift, yep.

Schennum: Okay and . . .

Judy Hoffert: No day was sacred, no day was sacred, you worked every holiday, and you had something to do, too bad, you had to work, you went to work, you know, because we were supposed to be grateful that he had a job, see we weren't supposed to question, you know, well why does he have to work every Christmas, you know, you weren't supposed to question that, you were just supposed to say well, just be glad he 9:00has a job.

Schennum: So you continued working and then you had your first child.

Judy Hoffert: Right.

Schennum: In what year was that?

Judy Hoffert: She was born in '75 and then I had . . . my son was born in '80, and then my youngest was born in '84.

Schennum: Okay, so when you had your oldest daughter then you quit work to . . .

Judy Hoffert: Right.

Schennum: . . . to become a full-time mom, stay home and take care of your kids. So that must have been . . . can you talk a little bit about this period when your children are young of being a steelworkers wife because your husband has a good job, he's in the blast furnace department, but he's working swing shift, he's . . . I don't know if he is working overtime hours?

Judy Hoffert: Sometimes, yeah, sometimes he would work double, triple shifts, we wouldn't see him for days, and then he'd come home just 10:00to sleep and get up and go back.

Schennum: And so how did that affect what you had to do at home, the rhythm of home life?

Judy Hoffert: Well, I was resentful at times, you know, I remember we had a date set for my son's baptism and he couldn't get off, he couldn't get off for something like that, they wouldn't give him off, you know, and he didn't think about calling out sick , you just didn't do that, you know, in those days, you were so glad you had a job, he was loyal and wouldn't think about missing work for any reason. We had a snowstorm one time, it was, I don't know, three feet, he couldn't get the car out and he walked to work, it was five miles in three feet of snow and then couldn't make it home for three or four days cause he was stuck there filling in for all the people that couldn't make it in, and you just didn't think twice about it. Now sometimes I'd resent that he wasn't home, you know, a lot with the 11:00kids, but we were supposed to be grateful that he was making a good living for us and that's the way it was supposed to be.

Schennum: So I think about him getting stuck in a snowstorm, for example, then who does . . . you know you think about a home with a kind of a division of labor, outside chores, inside chores, who shovels the snow, who takes care of all of that when he's working those long hours at the plant?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah, that was a problem.

Schennum: Did you end up doing a lot of that yourself?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, that was a problem, that was a problem, yeah, and I don't remember who did it, but maybe the kids . . .

Schennum: When they got older . . .

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah, but it was hard, but, you know, we didn't want for anything, you know, financially in . . . we were better than most couples our age. We bought a house in '75, where young couples today could never buy a house as soon as we bought a house, we were 12:00only married a year, young couples can't do that today. We had very importantly medical benefits that were extremely good, we never paid for anything. When I had the children, we only paid for the TV and the phone in the room, that's all we paid for, and now it's so exactly the opposite, you know, the medical coverage we have now doesn't cover anything, I get huge bills and it's such, such a difference.

Schennum: Did Bethlehem Steel's medical coverage cover things like eye glasses if your children needed them . . .

Judy Hoffert: They did.

Schennum: Braces . . .

Judy Hoffert: They did, they covered everything, and then, I don't remember what year, but they opened the Bethlehem Health Care Center, what a godsend that was. I mean if someone was sick all you had to do was go there, there was always a doctor available, you had medicine 13:00right there in some cases, I mean, it was just so wonderful to have that, they actually ended up closing that health care center while we were in Baltimore and destroying our records, we never did get our medical records, because they couldn't find us apparently they didn't know where we were, and apparently they sent a letter to our house, which was . . . we still had that address, but the house was empty, saying, well if you want your records you have to pick them up by such and such a time and we never got it and we . . . and all our records were destroyed.

Schennum: Oh my goodness. So, your kids are growing up, your husband is working, did he work in the blast furnace the entire time in Bethlehem?

Judy Hoffert: I believe so, yeah.

Schennum: Okay and did you ever have the opportunity to go into the plant and see where your husband worked?

14:00

Judy Hoffert: You know, I'm glad you asked me that because, you know, that's something that I remember wondering what does the blast furnace look like, you know, what do you do at work, and he would never tell me in great detail because he didn't want me to worry, I found out years later, how dangerous it was, and it wasn't until the plant was closing in '95 that they allowed the families to come in and I looked around and I said you worked in this dungeon for 30 years, at that point 25 years, this is the conditions you worked under and never said anything, I was horrified, I was horrified It was freezing cold, it was, it was dangerous. There was time when there was an explosion in the blast furnace, one of the pots blew up, thank God he wasn't there when it happened, but, of course, he heard about it the 15:00next day and there were two men killed that he knew very well, and there was another time that there was a man almost killed in front of him, he was hit by a truck and these things, you know, affected him, but he didn't bring them home, he left them at work, now he did tell me about the explosion and the men that were killed, and he told me about the man that was hit by the truck, but, you know, he didn't go into great detail because he didn't want me to say, well, you know, you should be looking for another job, you know, I don't want to get a phone call one day saying you're not coming home, and he didn't want me know any of that, and I didn't know any of it, you know, and a lot of the accidents and things were kept very quiet, you know.

16:00

Schennum: Yeah, I was going to ask and you answered that, but I wondered how that danger affected you, so it sounded like you weren't so anxious about the dangerous nature of the work because you weren't aware of it completely.

Judy Hoffert: I was totally naïve. Totally naïve, you know, and it wasn't as if every time there was an accident it was published in the newspaper because it wasn't, they tried to hush it up. It was only if it was a very catastrophic thing with massive loss of life they almost had to publish it in the newspaper, but, you know, they . . . you didn't hear about these things on the news much, and if he wasn't going to tell me then how was I going to find out so, you know, he pretty much kept us in the dark about that, and that's why when, you know, my eyes were opened years later, you know, after he, after he was transferred.

17:00

Schennum: Now I wanted to get back to holidays a little bit because I'm curious how you handled, you know, birthdays, holidays. Clearly you, you know, Jeff is working swing shift, he's working on holidays, how do you plan family events?

Judy Hoffert: Well, we planned everything around his schedule, you know, everything, and the upside of that was that sometimes he had off during the week and could go to the children's activities at school, some fathers could never do that, you know, if you had a Monday to Friday job you didn't go to school in the middle of the week, well he got to do some of those things because he did have the swing shifts and, you know, he did have some days off in the middle of the week, and he was very active with the children and coaching, you know, baseball, softball and all at stuff, he was very active with that, you know, so we worked everything around his schedule, everything 18:00revolved around Bethlehem Steel the whole time.

Schennum: And did that include sort of quiet times in the house and because people are, you know, your husbands sleeping at odd times sometimes?

Judy Hoffert: Of course, yeah, of course. One time he came home from night shift, I don't remember what year it was, and he went to bed in the morning, and 9:00 o'clock at night when he should've been getting up, he should have gotten up at 4:00 to eat dinner, you know, cause he went to bed around 8:00 in the morning, and he didn't get up. So, I thought okay well he's just really tired, I'll let him sleep. When he hadn't gotten up by 9:00 at night when it was time to leave at work again, I'm concerned I go up, here he had been gassed at work, he could have died in his sleep and I never knew, I never knew he was gassed, he never came home and told me he was gassed, I never knew 19:00that there would be this possibility that he wouldn't wake up, you know, I'm thinking he's just really tired today, and then when I couldn't wake him up, I became concerned, and I was ready to call the ambulance and then he got up and he told me what happened the night before they were gassed, I forget the circumstances of it, but it was another one of the dangers of the blast furnace, you know, getting burned, and he was never burned, but there were people that were burned quite badly and things like that that, you know, the wives I don't think were supposed to know, you know.

Schennum: And were there any long-term affects of that gassing incident?

Judy Hoffert: Emotionally, emotionally, yeah. Yeah, with each incident, you know, he would become more withdrawn, and, you know, more unwilling to talk about work with me or the kids. If you asked our children, they know very little about anything that he did, they knew 20:00he worked in the blast furnace that was it. Well what did you do, they don't know, they don't know, it wasn't something that you talked about, you were just supposed to be glad he had a job. That was it.

Schennum: So let me ask you then about like your social life, did you hang . . . did you, were you friends with a lot of steelworker families, or . . .

Judy Hoffert: A few, but we mostly became friends with steelworker families after we were transferred because then we all had something in common, and there was a group of about 50 of us that all lived around the same area in Edgemere, which was right across the bridge from the Sparrows Point [Maryland] plant. We all kind of moved into the same general area because we had investigated it first and found out that was a safe area to live, there were sections of Baltimore that you could not live in safely, we didn't know that coming from here what do 21:00you think of when you think of Baltimore, you think of Inner Harbor, oh what a pretty place, but when you think about living there you really need to investigate, there's parts of Baltimore that you would not want to live, and we did investigate it first, and we did find out the safe areas to live and so we all kind of migrated to this area in Edgemere which was right on the edge of the water, it was pretty and we got all then to know each other then, cause we were all displaced.

Schennum: Okay, and so was that . . . I'm just wonder like talking about not really knowing about the danger in blast furnace, then living in Edgemere did you begin to hear more stories and get more of a sense about what went on with . . . inside the mill?

Judy Hoffert: Oh yeah, oh yeah, we heard the stories then from the men, yeah, because we would all get together, we would all get together, and we would all go out and then I got to know all the wives and the wives would hang out and then, you know, but when they first 22:00got to Sparrows Point, the Sparrows Point people didn't want the Bethlehem men there, they gave them a horrible time, and they even had this thing with the seniority where their seniority from Bethlehem didn't count and, you know, it was a horrible situation and, of course, you know, we didn't want to move, but he needed seven years, and we thought well, you know, seven years isn't that horrible an amount of time, if he goes and puts the seven years in, we'll have his pension and medical benefits for the rest of our life, and that was a big one and that's why we made the decision to go ahead and move.

23:00

Schennum: Yeah, so let's go back to Bethlehem for a minute before we go on to Sparrows Point. Another thing I was wondering is . . . so your husband's working in the blast furnace, which is a highly-skilled job in the steel mill, he's a member of the union. What did you think about the union, about unions, growing up in a household with a union worker, I mean living in a household with a union worker?

Judy Hoffert: Well, this is what you heard about unions, you know, you heard on the street that unions were bad, unions were breaking up companies, unions were demanding too much from the companies, unions were want 13 weeks vacation that's unheard of and unions were bringing down the business, you know, when in fact it wasn't the unions bringing down the business it was the unions trying to protect their workers from being taken advantage of and so it was . . . it wasn't the unions that brought about the demise of the Bethlehem Steel, it was the 24:00executives who were putting the money into country clubs and lavish vacations for themselves instead of putting it back in the plant and modernizing the plant.

Schennum: And living in Bethlehem with your kids as were heading towards 1995 and the closing of the hot end, did you feel like you . . . when if you go shopping or something you'd run into these attitudes, did people say things like the union is . . .

Judy Hoffert: Yes, yes, yes.

Schennum: And did you feel like you had to defend . . .

Judy Hoffert: Yes, because he would always defend the union, you know, so I took up that cause for him, you know. The thirteen weeks vacation was always a big one, people resented that, the normal person didn't get that much vacation, they didn't understand, and then you'd hear, you know, all these steelworkers do is sleep when on their on job and stuff and that wasn't never true, you know, but it was an attitude that people had or their overpaid, you know, well they weren't overpaid for the danger that they did, they weren't overpaid for 25:00the conditions that they had to work under, you know, but people didn't understand that, you know, and there are people to this day that think it was that that caused the Steel company's demise.

Schennum: Okay, so now we're coming up to the closing of the hot end, right, the shutting down of the blast furnace, was your husband . . . how did you hear about the closing of the hot end?

Judy Hoffert: Well, there had been rumors, you know, months prior, and I was horrified, I mean, everyone was, we were horrified, we just could not believe it, and we used to say the almighty Steel company is going to close, you know, just horrified. Now he had three 26:00generations of his family that had worked there, and if they would have known, you know, no one would have ever imagined it, it just seemed so impossible, and yet it was happening.

Schennum: And did your husband work up until that last day?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, he was there at the last cast, November 1995, he was there that day.

Schennum: So that must have been very difficult for him?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, it was. It was difficult for all the men, yeah.

Schennum: And it must have been very upsetting to your family, so now you were kind of up in the air about what's going to happen next.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah, then when he found out that he was offered a transfer, I mean he could have refused it, and then we would have just stayed in Bethlehem and then he would've had to look for another job, and then he would have worked down there for nothing all those years, you know, we weren't willing to give up all that he had worked for. When we found out that he could go to . . . he had a choice 27:00between Sparrows Point, Buffalo, New York, or Burns Harbor, Indiana. Buffalo was too cold, Burns Harbor was too far away, and we chose Sparrows Point because it was the closest and we thought we'd be able to get home once in a while.

Schennum: Did you go to visit Sparrows Point or Lackawanna [NY] before you made the decision?

Judy Hoffert: We visited Sparrows Point before we made the decision.

Schennum: Okay and what was that visit like when you . . .

Judy Hoffert: They took us on a tour of different apartment complexes. I guess Bethlehem Steel had hired a realtor to show us safe places to live, and I remember we went down for that and then we chose, you know, the place that we chose to live.

Schennum: And how long was the layoff after the closing of the hot end until . . .

28:00

Judy Hoffert: Until we moved . . .

Schennum: . . . the transfer offer was made?

Judy Hoffert: Well, yeah, it was about three years, wasn't it . . . two years, two years because the last cast was in '95 and we moved in '97.

Schennum: Okay.

Judy Hoffert: He moved first. A group of men that he knew they all got an apartment together for the first year, reason being I wasn't ready to uproot myself because my son was a senior in high school and I couldn't go down that year and plus we wanted to make sure it was something that he was going to want to continue to do, so the men went down first, and they all lived together, and he was extremely unhappy in that situation because he only got home once a month and it was horrible, very upsetting.

29:00

Schennum: And he was working in the sintering plant in Sparrows Point when he started?

Judy Hoffert: Sparrows Point, where were you in Sparrows Point?

Jeff Hoffert: I started in sintering plant then went to the coil pack.

Judy Hoffert: Oh.

Schennum: And so, and so, his initial job it was probably the schedule was difficult because he didn't have seniority, and it was more difficult for him to come home, right?

Judy Hoffert: Yes, yes, yes. So, it was horrible, so then my son graduated from high school, and I had to give up my job, you know, because I had a job here.

Schennum: Yeah, so what was your . . . so we haven't talked about your job.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah.

Schennum: So you took, you weren't working when your kids were little . . .

Judy Hoffert: Right, right.

Schennum: But then you went back to work . . .

Judy Hoffert: When they got older, I went back to work, I was a surgical assistant for an oral surgeon in Bethlehem, and . . .

Schennum: Okay, did you need training for that, did you have to go back to school?

30:00

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, I went back to college, yeah, when I was in my thirties I went back to college, and got a job in the OR and I loved it, I loved it, that's what I should have done right out of high school was gone to nursing school, I thought about it and I didn't do it, but I got to do it later in life, so that's okay.

Schennum: And what made you decide it was time for you to go back to school and back into the workforce?

Judy Hoffert: Well, the kids were all in school, and our surgical schedule was mornings when they were in school and no weekends, so I was always home when they were home.

Schennum: So the schedule worked out perfectly with your childcare responsibilities and you really enjoyed the job.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, right, right, I really enjoyed it and I . . .

Schennum: So you did that for a long time then.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, ten years.

Schennum: So that . . . so you continued to do that work, were at home, your old . . . your son was finishing his senior year, and how did 31:00you take care of everything at home?

Judy Hoffert: It was hard, I didn't even know how to start the lawn mower, you know, to cut the grass. I mean I was lost, I was lost, it was just a whole year that I just choose to forget, you know, and then well we made the decision, when I made the decision to join him in Baltimore, then he left the apartment with the men, and we got our own apartment, and then my son went off to college, my other, my oldest daughter was already in college, and we had to take our youngest, Laura, with us.

Schennum: And what year of school was she in?

Judy Hoffert: She was fifteen, she was going to tenth.

Schennum: Okay, so she moved down with you.

Judy Hoffert: And she had been in Freedom one year, and she didn't want to leave, she didn't want to leave, and I remember telling her, I'm sorry, but you have to go, and she left all her friends, that's a hard year to have to leave, and we went down there and in the 32:00apartment complex there was a lot of kids around her age, and these kids were always like running the streets all hours of the night, and I never understood it and I didn't want her running the streets because I didn't know the area that well, and so I would invite the kids into our apartment, and I'd have these kids overnight living at my house days on end and I'd say, don't you have to go home and tell your parents where you are, and they'd say no they don't care, and I'm thinking well that's kind of odd, let's go check on that, you know, so I'd go and there was no parents, these children were left alone, you know, it was sad.

Schennum: So this was a big apartment complex where a lot of the Bethlehem Steel families lived, but these other families were living there also, and what were the other families, what kind of work did they have, what were they, did you get a sense of that?

33:00

Judy Hoffert: No, it was just a melting pot of people, you know, and, you know, I think it was, I think it was kind of a lower income situation, and they just didn't, they just weren't responsible for their children, and I took on the role of being the mother of the neighborhood, we took, I remember we took two boys with us to the Baltimore Zoo, they lived in Baltimore their whole lives and they had never been to the Baltimore Zoo, you know, and I said would you like to go to the Zoo, oh yeah, I had them living with us for days at a time. And then when I found out their home situation, I understood why, and I didn't then force them to go home, they were better off with 34:00me. But then one day Laura came home and she said mom, she said, there's a boy living in the woods, and I said what do you mean Laura, cause you know in Bethlehem you just didn't encounter this type of thing, and she said yeah he's . . . come see he's living in the woods, and well there was a wooded area behind the complex and so, you know, I went with her and there was a boy seventeen years old, and he was living in this cardboard shack with rundown furniture that he pulled out of the garbage, and there he was and I said what in the world are you doing here, and he said I was thrown out of my house, he said my parents are dead, I was living with my aunt and she threw me out, and I thought you know what, I need to check on this story, so give me your aunt's phone number, and I called her and that was exactly right. 35:00She threw him out and she said he stole from me, he's out, he's not welcome back, and he had nowhere to go he was underage, you know, so I tried various agencies, you know, no luck, I couldn't get that boy and he had never finished the ninth grade, and I couldn't find that boy a place to go in all of Baltimore, so winter was coming, and Laura said well mom why can't he live with us, and I said well I guess he can, but I said I have rules that he has to follow, and if he's not going to follow them, then he's not welcome to live with us. Oh no, no, he says I'll follow the rules, you know, and he was charming, he was very charming, and I remember this boy he . . . like I said he never 36:00finished the ninth grade, but he could sit down and draw the most beautiful pictures you have ever seen, and I said to him did you ever have an art class, never had an art class, I said then how can you draw these beautiful pictures, and he said I see it in my head. Okay, alright, well turns out he was bipolar, and it was kind of like the movie the, A Beautiful Mind, they see things in their head when they're bipolar, and when he was having a manic moment he would actually hallucinate but he could transfer those hallucinations onto paper, it was the most miraculous thing I have ever seen, and I just thought that I should be able to find this boy work in that field or something that he could do good with his life, and believe me I tried, I contacted agencies, I called the social security office because by then he was 37:00turning eighteen, and I just thought that there should be some place that he could go finish his education, and but here he had a long criminal background, and was on probation, and there wasn't anybody that would offer him anything, so we took him in, and he lived with us for the whole length of time that we were in Baltimore which was several years, and ultimately he became now the father of my grandson. Which was totally unexpected, but it was one of my rules and he broke that one, he broke that rule, and I said no drugs in my house, and he broke that rule, and broke into my apartment three times when we were gone, and stole everything to fuel his drug habit, but always I would 38:00forgive him because always he would say I'm going to do better next time, and I always thought that he could, but he never did. That was my biggest failure was not being able to transform this child into what I thought he could be, you know.

Schennum: But it also sounds like this tremendous culture shock that you leave Bethlehem a city that you've lived in your whole life, you have all of this extended family and network of community, and you go to a city where you don't find that community, or that support from the Government, from agencies, from . . .

Judy Hoffert: No, no, no they told me when I moved there that one in nine adults in Baltimore was a drug addict, and the amount of crime there was mostly related to that statistic. I got a job as a manager of CVS Pharmacies because they were opening a new store, and I didn't 39:00know how to get anywhere, and this was somewhere where I could learn to drive to, so they hired me because I had a medical background and a retail background so I didn't have any trouble getting hired, and I was a manager and the problems were just mind boggling, I mean I couldn't even believe it. Thieves would come in, and they would walk out the front door with massive amounts of merchandise right in front of me, and I'd be standing there what is going on here, and I . . . they would have a . . . they used to call it rob and ride where they would come in load up huge bags of merchandise, and walk out the door and get in the city bus, because the bus stop was right out front of the store. It was called rob and ride and I said to the top manager, I said why do you allow that, and he said we can't do anything about 40:00that, I said oh yes you can and I called the police, and I had the bus stopped, and they stopped the bus, and they brought our merchandise back, and we did that several times and pretty soon there was no more rob and rides at my store, you know, and then they did what they call smash and dash, they would drive the car through the front plate glass door of the store and that's where all the carton of cigarettes were, which CVS doesn't sell cigarettes anymore, probably because of this, and steal all the cigarettes, and it was a horrendous problem. I had my life threatened on many occasions, it was a horrendous problem, but I just kept calling the police, and calling the police as five, six, seven times a day I would call the police, and pretty soon word on the street was you don't want to go to that CVS anymore there 41:00is a crazy woman working there now, you know, and the manger said to me, Judy where are you from, and I said I'm from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and this doesn't happen there, and he's be like, had no clue, you know, had no clue, and I said if you fight back, if you don't fight back the thieves win, and they were winning, and it was the most horrendous thing I have ever seen. I'd go to work, I didn't know if I was coming home that night, you know, they'd come in there, you know, and rob the place and, you know, I was just always on edge, always on edge, and then, of course, there was problem of the homelessness where we were forced to throw out tremendous amounts of food, we would pull it off the shelves 60 days before its expiration date, and the food's good 60 days past its expiration, I mean six months after 42:00its expiration date, the food is still edible. Well, we were pulling it 60 days ahead of the expiration dates, so your pulling off food that's good for another at minimum eight months and throwing it in the dumpster. Well, to me this way unconscionable, you know, I said this is not acceptable, you know, this city has a tremendous homeless problem, you saw them all over the place, why are you not using this food to feed these people, and nobody would listen to me, and they'd always say, you know, Judy you are too nice, your just too nice they're going to kill you here. I said well the length of time of here I'm going to make a difference, and I would go to put this food out in the dumpster, I'd open the dumpster, and there'd be men sleeping in it, you know. So I would make a point to try to keep the food clean, and try to put it off to the side so they could get it easily, and allow them to have it, we were throwing it out. So then somebody 43:00got word of it, and they said no you can't do that. I said why, well then let me take it down to the food bank, let me give it to the homeless shelters, at the very least, let's reduce it, and sell it quickly at a reduced . . . none of that was acceptable, so I was at an impasse, and it bothered me, and they said, well you know because we have this problem with homeless people getting food out of our dumpster we need to do something about it, not something constructive, not something right, let's do something like poor bleach on the food and destroy it, and I said you want me to do what, we need to pour bleach on the food and destroy it, I said I will not do it, I will not 44:00do it, and I wouldn't and I to this day never did it. It was wrong, a multi-billion dollar corporation had the ability to solve half the countries homeless food problem, and were pouring bleach on it, I said I want no part of that, and they said, we knew we would have trouble with you because you're not from here, you're not from Baltimore, you are an outsider, with your outsider point of view, your outsider morals, your outsider ethics, and this is what we do here, you're not in Bethlehem anymore, and I said I won't do it.

Schennum: And it sounded like . . . so you ran into that at work at your job, right, and it sounded like your husband also ran into that 45:00at work at his job, when he was working in the mill that people were very resistant to the Bethlehem workers coming in there.

Judy Hoffert: A lot of discrimination. They felt that they were stealing their jobs, yeah, they didn't want them there. It was sad, it was sad, and he worked long shifts, he worked triple shifts there sometimes, you know, we didn't see him for days at a time, you know, and I was in a strange, a strange city, and my daughter was running the streets.

Schennum: And how did, how was the high school, how did she adjust to the high school?

Judy Hoffert: Sparrows Point High School was at a much lower level than Freedom High School was. I questioned the fact that she never brought homework home, and I said to her, you know, I don't understand, I never see a book, you know, I never see any homework, I never see any papers to be signed like in the Bethlehem School District, and so I went to the first PTA meeting I made a point to go there, and I 46:00talked to the teacher, and I said I don't understand that this high school she should be having some homework, and the teacher looked at me like I was an alien from outer space, and said oh no Mrs. Hoffert, she said, we could never let the books go home they would never come back. I said really, you know, and the level of education they got was substandard, they were just pushing them through, you know. So she threw herself into athletics, she became very involved in softball, and won the best athlete award in her senior year.

Schennum: Oh, that's nice. Now, meanwhile, so you're struggling with all of these things in a new city, but, meanwhile, you're supporting your household back at home in Bethlehem, right?

47:00

Judy Hoffert: Well, my house sat empty, and we were paying over the course of the six years we were there $48,000 in rent. Which we thought we would recoup, of course, you know, when he got his pension, and never did.

Schennum: So you're supporting two households, and your kids are going to college, and you're paying for both of those in order to make it to the time that your husband's pension eligible, and then was your plan to retire and return to Bethlehem?

Judy Hoffert: Yes.

Schennum: Okay.

Judy Hoffert: Absolutely, the plan the whole time.

Schennum: Yeah. So then tell me what happened then with that.

Judy Hoffert: Well, he was down there six years, eleven months and ten days, and they cancelled the deal. We missed it by 20 days, there was one man that missed it by one day. It was an outrage. Nobody could believe it, we couldn't believe that that was even possible that they could cancel the deal. So, of course, we all went together and hired a lawyer to sue them, and the lawyer said he said you don't have 48:00a case, he said in this contract in this little clause in the contract that none of us knew about it said that if they sold out before your time was up that the deal was null and void.

Schennum: And how did you hear about it that this is the day the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is taking over the pension? Did you have warning ahead of time?

Judy Hoffert: I think they called us in, they called us in, I remember they called us in to the union office, and they met with all of us, and they told us what was happening. We never thought that they would ever sell out, when we first got down there in '97 they had just opened a new six million dollar cold mill. We thought that mill was going strong, that there would never be a chance that they would ever close, and they escalated that sale because they knew of our start dates, they knew that the majority of us started that same month in June 49:00'73, they knew what time they had to push the sale through in order to exclude us, and they did just that. And we were excluded.

Schennum: And did the union in Sparrow Point help you at all with them?

Judy Hoffert: Did they help us? They told him he could stay, they told him he could stay in Baltimore for another for twelve years if he wanted to.

Schennum: So he could have stayed working for the International Steel Group, if he had made that decision, but at that point you all were not interested in that?

Judy Hoffert: No, no.

Schennum: So you decided then to return to Bethlehem?

Judy Hoffert: Well, we wanted to come home. My daughter was pregnant which we weren't counting on, and I had to get special permission 50:00for this boy to leave the state because he was on probation, and bring him back to Bethlehem with us. Which I did and . . .

Schennum: Did your husband get a buyout from International Steel Group?

Judy Hoffert: Umm . . .

Schennum: No?

Jeff Hoffert: No, I had to wait ten years to get my pension.

Schennum: So you missed your pension then you just decided then to leave, okay . . .

Judy Hoffert: And after ten years when he turned 60 he got a small portion, like a third of it . . .

Jeff Hoffert: [?]

Judy Hoffert: And then we never got any medical benefits or anything.

Schennum: So you had to do all of this work to get the father of your grandson back home to Bethlehem with you also?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, he came back with us, and the baby was born, Joshua, and Joshua was about 3 months old, and I found drugs in the 51:00bedroom, and so his father came home, and I said you broke rule number one, I said pack your bags, and it was the hardest thing cause he called me mom, and I looked at him as a son even though he had all these problems, and I knew who the drug dealer was because I . . . when I was transferred back to Bethlehem CVS Pharmacy they put me in South Bethlehem.

Schennum: So CVS transferred you? Okay.

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, I called for a transfer, and they put me in South Bethlehem, and South Bethlehem was the most like Baltimore than any other store in the Valley was like as far as crime and problems, and I knew who the drug dealer was that he was buying the drugs from, everybody on the Southside knew who the drug dealers were, and he packed his bags and I said now get in the car, he got in the car, and I drove him to the drug dealer's house, and I said this is the life you've chosen, I said you have a son now and even that, you know, wasn't 52:00enough, he got out the car crying and walked up to the door, and six months later the house was raided, and he went to State Penitentiary for six years. Now he's out, and wants no part of Joshua, you know, sadly enough, but, you know, he was never going to be the father that Joshua needed anyway so, you know, we took on that role.

Schennum: So you moved back to Bethlehem, you're working at CVS, your husband is looking for a job when he comes back, or is he retired now?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah, he was looking for something, but he was getting a lot of discrimination against he was an ex-steelworker and, you know, and.we never knew it at the time, we know it now, that there was a lot of discrimination against hiring ex-steelworkers, and you 53:00almost had to know somebody to get a full-time job.

Schennum: And what was that based on that discrimination?

Judy Hoffert: Based on, based on the fact that they thought the union workers were the ones that drove the plant into the ground. Based on that misconception that it was the workers not working hard enough that didn't keep the plant open, and he couldn't find anything full time, so he took a part-time job, and has been part time to this day.

Schennum: Now I wonder about what that feeling was like putting in all of that time at Sparrows Point to work towards that pension which was supposed to be full health care benefits, a good pension, and a solid retirement. What did that feel like to have Bethlehem Steel, and the Government, and the union essentially say I'm sorry that's just not going to happen?

54:00

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah, it was just devastating, you know, I can't even say how devastating, and it took a long time for us to actually accept what they were telling us, you know, we just couldn't believe it, we had done everything that we were asked to do. Had given up our home, had endured the time down there in Baltimore, and then to come home with nothing, it was just mind boggling, you know, we couldn't believe, we never recouped financially ever, never recouped and just, you know, most people most general public don't know that we didn't get what we went down there to get, people that know us know, but most of the general public think, oh well you know you had this . . . you 55:00got transferred like a lot people get transferred in their jobs, and, you know, and they don't know that we didn't get what we were promised, you know, now the man that made the decision to escalate the sale, he walked off with million dollar bonuses, and I heard had to hire a bodyguard to go places with him because his life was threatened, you know, he destroyed a lot of people's financial stability, and he just took the money and ran, you know, and didn't look back.

Schennum: And it just seems so arbitrary that eight days difference in seniority, you know, this the exact time when you first begin a job 56:00in 1973 can mean the difference between attaining a pension and not.

Judy Hoffert: And he would have had his 30 years because from '73 to 2003 when it closed, it was 30 years, but he lost some time during the layoffs, they subtracted that time.

Schennum: So when he was laid off while he was working at Bethlehem that time was subtracted from the total, and the blast furnace, of course, had layoffs at various times?

Judy Hoffert: Yeah, yeah. So with that time subtracted, you know, that excluded him also.

Schennum: Going back to Bethlehem, I forgot to ask you about the layoffs, but during the layoffs did that was that a feeling of insecurity, or did you always feel confident that you were being called back and . . .

Judy Hoffert: Well, you know, there was a time when they were having this big investigation because the Steel was trying to say that it 57:00was the imports the unfair imports that were causing the layoff, and it was, I mean they could no longer financially compete with these Chinese mills because we were . . . our mill was required by OSHA to put on multi-million dollar filtering systems, and things that the Chinese weren't requiring of their mills. So their polluting the world, and we are doing the right thing, but then we can't we can't produce the steel for the same price then, and it was the imports that were unfairly causing the business to decline, and the Government did realize that at one point, and at one point did say to us if you were laid off between such and such a time and such and such a time we 58:00have determined that that's the period of time when we can blame it on the unfair imports, you know, and I don't think we came into that period of time, so we did not get whatever extra the Government was offering at that time.

Schennum: And now the Bethlehem mill is closed, but also the Sparrows Point now is completely closed now.

Judy Hoffert: Unbelievable, unbelievable. I couldn't believe it that they had just opened that mill and it's closed, yeah, I guess it was because they couldn't compete either, you know, Bethlehem Steel was sending our men over to China to teach them how to produce steel, they taught them too well, you know, and but the . . . I think one thing that you'll notice, and you would notice it when they were doing the meeting that they had was the loyalty of these men, you know, and that's what hurts so much is when they have that amount of loyalty to a 59:00company, and they were referring to it as their family because they were spending more time with their coworkers than they were with their families, and, you know, they had that loyalty and then to have this happen is really hurts, you know.

Schennum: I wonder what you think of when you think about the next generation. I mean with the Bethlehem Steel income and job, and your work you sent two of your children through college, and as you look at the future of this of the next generation, what kinds of concerns do you have, what obstacles might they run into, what hopes do you have for them?

Judy Hoffert: I don't see that the younger generation ever being able to afford a home the way we did so early on in our marriage. I 60:00don't see the younger generation being able to survive on one income, I think women now are forced to work, which forces children to either be home alone or in daycare situations, they don't have the luxury anymore to have the mother at home, and it's sad it's sad, and I don't see companies offering pension plans like the Bethlehem Steel used to offer, you know, and certainly not medical benefits, you know, and they want you to purchase your medical benefits through the marketplace now, which we did, but it's far substandard to what we were used to, and we pay an exorbinent amount of money for the plan, and then when we do need to use the plan it doesn't cover anything, plus they have the say over my doctor what tests are going to be run, and that's wrong, that's just wrong. My doctor ordered an MRI for me three 61:00times, and they refused it three times, you know, so he wasn't able to continue with the treatment, you know, sad very sad that an insurance company should be able to dictate to the doctor what treatment I should get.

Schennum: And I think also I mean people don't realize that the losing of pension and health care is a huge impact on families finances, and not just for you and your husband, but I'm sure as parents you want your grandson to have the benefits of going to college, or the life that you envision for him, and I just wonder how that . . . do you feel that affects the future of even the next generation also?

Judy Hoffert: Oh, absolutely, it's a whole different way of life now. It's a whole different way of life, and not for the better, very sad, very sad. Sometimes I joke and say I'm almost glad that I'm old [?] have to relive, you know, the way they are now, but it's very 62:00sad. I don't know what the future holds I know there's a great moral decline in this country, and my son's a missionary, and he said to me the number of people in America, which used to be known as a Christian nation, the number of people in America under the age of 30 who have a belief system is under ten percent mom, and I said under ten percent, I said we lost that whole generation, and then I thought about it, and we lost them in my lifetime, you know, because they called the WWII generation they called the Greatest Generation, they wrote a book on that, the Greatest Generation the last generation that had any kind of moral ethics at all, and now in my generation and I saw . . . I 63:00watched it happen, I watched them take prayer out of the schools, I watched them legalize abortion, you know, watched them legalize gay marriage, and have rainbows on the White House, and I think they don't know what they are doing.

Schennum: And, you know, I wonder if your experience going through this process with Bethlehem Steel also generates questions about the moral commitment of, you know, the corporations that built the American economy, to workers, to the country, to . . .

Judy Hoffert: Absolutely, money perverts, money perverts people. Unless you have a strong faith, and I think most of the major 64:00corporations in this country are perverted in some way, and money is their only goal. At CVS I had . . . I was there eleven and a half years and I was injured and they left me go, and I was horrified all over again because, you know, I became a liability to them, my age and my disability now, and they didn't want any part of it, and so I lost my medical benefits through CVS because I was buying his benefits through CVS, and we lost that too, and so now I just work part time, and just for the fun of it, just for something to do, but my injury is permanent and I can't work full time, and I didn't go for disability though I could have because in my mind I wasn't disabled, you know, 65:00but actually I am, but, you know, I wasn't willing to go to the Government and say that I was so that I could collect money from them.

Schennum: So going through this with Bethlehem Steel were people's experience and skills ultimately didn't count towards getting a pension, and then having to go through the same thing with CVS where commitment, and the development of skills, and your long experience there ended up not, not counting.

Judy Hoffert: Exactly, exactly, and I was, and again because of the generation that we grew up in, intensely loyal, you know, I never called in sick, ever in all the years that I was there, wouldn't think to miss work, but the minute I was hurt on the job injury, they 66:00didn't want to know me, and they got away with it because I couldn't prove that I was injured there, you know, the only witness I had was a guy that still worked there, is he going to sit down and say . . . testify on my behalf and lose his job, so I didn't even ask him to. I accepted the layoff, and just went my own way, but that was devastating as well, you know.

Schennum: So I wondered about just a sort of summarize or wrap things up, what kinds of reflections would you want to leave people with with thinking about this life in a steel working family?

Judy Hoffert: Yes, I . . . I don't know that there are any companies anymore that have that intense loyalty from their employees, I don't 67:00know that that exists anymore, you know, I don't see it anywhere, you know, I see the CEOs being in it for the money and not for the welfare of their employees, you know, and I see everybody trying to be controlled by the dollar instead of by what's right, and to me that's sad, that's very sad because none of us can take any of that money with us when we leave, so whether they'll learn the lesson in time is anybody's guess, I would have to say no that we're too far, we're too far gone now to go back to being things ever being the way 68:00they were, you know, for companies ever caring about their employees I don't think that's ever going to happen ever and it's sad and soon they'll be a generation that won't even remember that, that won't remember the Steel company and that's why Frank wanted to do this so badly, because like he said he didn't want the children the ones growing up on the South Side in full view of the blast furnaces that they sit there not knowing what they were for and the men that risked their lives to work there. He wanted it to always be remembered and I share that belief with him, you know, because unless you tell the story, it's not going to be remembered, you know, it's the same with the Holocaust and how the survivors are now there's so few still alive but now they're trying to tell the story lest people forget because if 69:00you forget you will repeat that mistake, you know, and if people forge about the Bethlehem Steel and the loyalty of the workers there, you know, and what caused the plant to go under, they'll just keep repeating the mistakes over an over no one will have learned from it. So, that's our goal for making this known I think.

Schennum: Thank you very much.

Judy Hoffert: You're welcome very much. That was actually fun.

0:00 - Introduction and Growing up in Bethlehem

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Partial Transcript: Okay, very good, so here we are on March 4 with Judy Hoffert and we are going to talk to Judy about her experiences as a wife of a steelworker amongst other things.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer, Jill A. Schennum, introduces the interviewee, Judy Hoffert. Hoffert shares that she grew up on the North Side of Bethlehem and that her father owned a family-operated meat market and butcher shop.

Keywords: childhood; education; family; food and drink; North Bethlehem

1:00 - Family Business

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Partial Transcript: And your father had a meat market, butcher shop initially, right?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert continues to speak about her family's business, a butcher shop and meat delivery service. According to Hoffert, her father had a butcher truck that he would use to make local meat deliveries to the family's clients. Hoffert recalls, "He used to go around to the neighborhoods ringing a bell like the ice cream trucks do today and the women would come out of their houses with their aprons on, cause all women were home in those days, and they would buy whatever kind of meat that they wanted right off the truck." Hoffert also shares that she worked in the butcher shop throughout her teenage years, where she later met her husband.

Keywords: childhood; communities; family; food and drink; gender roles; housework; neighborhoods

2:09 - Wealthy Clients

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Partial Transcript: Who were the clients of your . . . [business]?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert alludes to the wealth disparity that existed in Bethlehem (Pa.) during her youth. She recalls the wealthier clients (whom she speculates were the executives of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation) on her family's meat delivery route. According to Hoffert, the wealthy clients "always got, of course, the best cuts of meats and the best of everything and my father specialized in that..."

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; childhood; food and drink; residences; social classes

3:44 - Early Work Experience

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Partial Transcript: So a lot of people... what year were you born? ...’53, okay, so a lot of people think about you know families with businesses or working in the 50s and 60s and they have this image of the stay-at-home mom, but it sounds like your mother was very active in the business...

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert shares that the whole family worked in the butcher shop, including her mother, brother, and herself. She indicates that she enjoyed the work, while learning a lot of business as well as customer service. Her father later sold the Ritter Meat Market to her uncle and opened a sanitary meat market.

Keywords: children; family; food and drink; gender roles; laborers

5:14 - Education and Work Experience

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so you were growing up in Bethlehem and then you went to high school.

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert indicates that after completing high school, her parents wanted her to go to college, but she chose to work and get married instead. She briefly worked in the sales audit department at Almart, a department store that used to be located in the Lehigh Shopping Center, before leaving work to care for her first child.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; child care; children; education; family; marriage; Sales Department; wages

6:24 - Meeting Her Husband At Work

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about meeting your husband.

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert explains that she met her husband while he was working at her father's store, where he worked before starting at Bethlehem Steel. She discusses their courtship, including bowling and going to the movies together. She contrasts her experience with dating today.

Keywords: family; marriage; social life

7:25 - Husband's Early Work Experiences

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Partial Transcript: And you got married in '74 and what was Jeff doing before he worked at Bethlehem Steel?

Segment Synopsis: According to Hoffert, her husband, Jeff, spent some time taking courses in college before getting a job at Bethlehem Steel Corporation. As Hoffert states, "when he got the job at the Bethlehem Steel, he just, he didn't need college anymore, I mean the Bethlehem Steel was it. If you got in there, you had it made for life..."

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; education; family; marriage

8:18 - Husband's Job at Bethlehem Steel and Working Conditions

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so both of you were working, you continued to work after you got married, and he was working at Bethlehem Steel, and what department was your husband working in initially?

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Judy Hoffert begins to explain some of the challenges of Jeff's schedule, including working the swing shift. Hoffert states that "no day was sacred" because her husband had to work on holidays. According to Hoffert, workers were expected to be grateful to have a job and not question their intense working schedules.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; blast furnaces; laborers; shifts; swing shift; working conditions

9:06 - Family Challenges and Childcare

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Partial Transcript: So you continued working and then you had your first child.

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert explains that she worked until she had her first child in 1975. In this segment, she delves into some of the complications and challenges that her family faced because of her husband's demanding work schedule. Hoffert shares, "sometimes I’d resent that he wasn’t home, you know, a lot with the kids, but we were supposed to be grateful that he was making a good living for us and that’s the way it was supposed to be." However, Hoffert also notes that they were financially stable and had medical benefits through Jeff's job at the steel company.

Keywords: benefits; blast furnaces; child care; children; family; gender roles; health; health insurance; housework; marriage; overtime; residences; shifts; swing shift; wages; working conditions

13:44 - Working Conditions at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation

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Partial Transcript: Oh my goodness. So, your kids are growing up, your husband is working, did he work in the blast furnace the entire time in Bethlehem?

Segment Synopsis: In this powerful segment, Hoffert explains that she was unaware of her husband's working conditions and the dangers that he faced at work--information that he was reluctant to tell her because he didn't want her to worry about him. Hoffert recalls, "He would never tell me in great detail because he didn’t want me to worry, I found out years later, how dangerous it was, and it wasn’t until the plant was closing in ’95 that they allowed the families to come in and I looked around and I said you worked in this dungeon for 30 years, at that point 25 years, this is the conditions you worked under and never said anything, I was horrified, I was horrified." According to Hoffert, her husband tried to leave the accidents and dangers that he witnessed at work, so those memories wouldn't affect his home life. Hoffert further indicates that the Bethlehem Steel Company was very protective of its image and did not publish all of the accidents that happened at the company.

Keywords: accidents; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; blast furnaces; family; home life; safety; working conditions

17:06 - Planning Family Events around Husband's Schedule

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Partial Transcript: Now I wanted to get back to holidays a little bit because I’m curious how you handled, you know, birthdays, holidays. Clearly you, you know, Jeff is working swing shift, he’s working on holidays, how do you plan family events?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert explains that the family planned their activities around Jeff's schedule, because he worked swing shifts and often had to sleep at odd hours. However, she also points out that, "The upside of that was that sometimes he had off during the week and could go to the children’s activities at school, some fathers could never do that, you know, if you had a Monday to Friday job you didn’t go to school in the middle of the week, well he got to do some of those things because he did have the swing shifts and, you know, he did have some days off in the middle of the week, and he was very active with the children and coaching,"

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; child care; children; family; home life; shifts; swing shift

18:07 - Gassing Accident at Work

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Partial Transcript: And did that include sort of quiet times in the house and because people are, you know, your husbands sleeping at odd times sometimes?

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Hoffert further explains the hidden costs of working in the blast furnaces. She recalls one particular accident, in which her husband came home from work and slept for a day. Unbeknownst to Hoffert, he had been involved in a gassing accident at work. Hoffert remembers, "I’m thinking he’s just really tired today, and then when I couldn’t wake him up, I became concerned, and I was ready to call the ambulance and then he got up and he told me what happened the night before they were gassed..." Hoffert speculates that, "I don't think the wives were supposed to know" about the dangerous conditions that their spouses faced at work.

Keywords: accidents; blast furnaces; health; home life; safety; working conditions

19:42 - Long-Term Effects of Work Hazards

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Partial Transcript: And were there any long-term affects of that gassing incident?

Segment Synopsis: Here, Hoffert explores some of the painful emotional implications that came along with her husband's job. According to Hoffert, her husband became more unwilling and unable to speak about the dangers and accidents that he endured at work. She shares, "With each incident, you know, he would become more withdrawn, and, you know, more unwilling to talk about work with me or the kids. If you asked our children, they know very little about anything that he did, they knew he worked in the blast furnace that was it. Well what did you do, they don’t know, they don’t know, it wasn’t something that you talked about, you were just supposed to be glad he had a job."

Keywords: accidents; family; health; home life; working conditions

20:21 - Social Life

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Partial Transcript: So let me ask you then about like your social life, did you hang ...did you, were you friends with a lot of steelworker families, or...

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Hoffert discusses her social life after her husband was transferred to the Sparrow Point Plant in Baltimore. Although the family did not want to move and there was some friction between the transferred Bethlehem Steel workers and the Sparrow Point Plant workers, it was financially advantageous for Jeff to accept the new position, which offered an excellent retirement plan with medical benefits. Hoffert further shares that they bonded with the other transferred steel worker families, all of whom settled in the same area in Edgemere, close to the plant. While living in Edgemere, Hoffert began to hear more details about working in the plant because the wives of the workers would get together to share stories.

Keywords: benefits; communities; family; pensions; race; safety; social classes; social life; Sparrows Point

23:04 - Hoffert's Feelings about Unions

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, so let’s go back to Bethlehem for a minute before we go on to Sparrows Point. Another thing I was wondering is . . . so your husband’s working in the blast furnace, which is a highly-skilled job in the steel mill, he’s a member of the union. What did you think about the union, about unions, growing up in a household with a union worker, I mean living in a household with a union worker?

Segment Synopsis: Here, Hoffert explains the complexities and differences in opinion that surrounded the union. Hoffert offers, "You heard on the street that unions were bad, unions were breaking up companies, unions were demanding too much from the companies, unions want 13 weeks vacation, that’s unheard of, and unions were bringing down the business, you know; when in fact it, wasn’t the unions bringing down the business, it was the unions trying to protect their workers from being taken advantage of... it wasn’t the unions that brought about the demise of the Bethlehem Steel." Hoffert further speculates that the executives were to blame for the plant closing, due to poor financial planning and a failure to modernize the plant. Please note: there is a pause in the recording when Hoffert gets up to close a door.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; blast furnaces; laborers; politics; unions; United Steelworkers of America; vacation

25:34 - Closing the Hot End of the Plant

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so now we’re coming up to the closing of the hot end, right, the shutting down of the blast furnace, was your husband . . . how did you hear about the closing of the hot end?

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Hoffert recalls the disbelief that accompanied the closing of the "hot end" of the plant in 1995. Hoffert insinuates that the plant was so integral to the infrastructure of Bethlehem that, "no one could have imagined it [closing]." After the Bethlehem Steel Corporation closed the hot end, Jeff Hoffert and other workers were offered the opportunity to transfer to the Sparrows Point Plant two years later.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; communities; family; laborers; Sparrows Point

27:58 - Husband's Initial Transfer to Sparrows Point Plant

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Partial Transcript: And how long was the layoff after the closing of the hot end until...the transfer offer was made?

Segment Synopsis: Judy Hoffert explains the difficulties of her husband's transfer to the Sparrows Point Plant. The family was unable to move for a year because their son was finishing his senior year of high school. Judy Hoffert recalls, "A group of men that he knew they all got an apartment together for the first year, reason being I wasn’t ready to uproot myself because my son was a senior in high school and I couldn’t go down that year and plus we wanted to make sure it was something that he was going to want to continue to do, so the men went down first, and they all lived together, and he was extremely unhappy in that situation because he only got home once a month and it was horrible, very upsetting." At this point, Jeff Hoffert briefly enters the interview to discuss his work at the sintering plant followed by working on the coil pack at the Sparrows Point Plant. After her son graduated, Judy Hoffert had to quit her job to move the family to Edgemere.

Keywords: family; home life; Sparrows Point

29:46 - Balancing Work and Child Care

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, so what was your . . . so we haven’t talked about your job.

Segment Synopsis: After Hoffert's children were grown and in school, she went back to college in her 30's to receive technical training to work as a surgical assistant for an oral surgeon--a job that she held for 10 years. She left her job as a surgical assistant to join her husband in Edgemere along with her youngest daughter, Laura. Towards the end of this segment, Hoffert discusses the fact that many of her daughter's new friends in Baltimore were left alone without parental supervision. Hoffert recalls, "I didn’t want her [Laura] running the streets because I didn’t know the area that well, and so I would invite the kids into our apartment, and I’d have these kids overnight living at my house days on end and I’d say, don’t you have to go home and tell your parents where you are, and they’d say no they don’t care, and I’m thinking well that’s kind of odd, let’s go check on that, you know, so I’d go and there was no parents, these children were left alone, you know, it was sad."

Keywords: child care; children; education; family; friends; housework; residences; training

32:53 - Living with other Transferred Bethlehem Steel Families

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Partial Transcript: So this was a big apartment complex where a lot of the Bethlehem Steel families lived, but these other families were living there also, and what were the other families, what kind of work did they have, what were they, did you get a sense of that?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert explains that in Baltimore she became the self-appointed "mother of the neighborhood," caring for children whose parents were not able to. She recalls one particularly powerful memory of her daughter finding a young man who had been kicked out of his house and was living in the woods behind the apartment complex. Hoffert took the young man into her home for the winter until she could find a more permanent home for him. Unfortunately, she encountered a lot of institutional resistance and lack of support. Towards the end of this segment, Hoffert shares that she regrets not being able to help this young man more. She reveals, "He lived with us for the whole length of time that we were in Baltimore which was several years, and ultimately he became now the father of my grandson. Which was totally unexpected, but it was one of my rules and he broke that one, he broke that rule, and I said no drugs in my house, and he broke that rule, and broke into my apartment three times when we were gone, and stole everything to fuel his drug habit, but always I would forgive him because always he would say I’m going to do better next time, and I always thought that he could, but he never did. That was my biggest failure was not being able to transform this child into what I thought he could be."

Keywords: children; education; family; home life; social classes

38:26 - Culture Shock in Baltimore

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Partial Transcript: But it also sounds like this tremendous culture shock that you leave Bethlehem a city that you’ve lived in your whole life, you have all of this extended family and network of community, and you go to a city where you don’t find that community, or that support from the Government, from agencies, from...

Segment Synopsis: In this powerful segment, Hoffert explains her efforts to deter crime and change the environment at the CVS where she worked in Baltimore. According to Hoffert, thieves would often steal merchandise from the store until she started calling the police to intervene. Hoffert recalls, "I had my life threatened on many occasions, it was a horrendous problem, but I just kept calling the police, and calling the police as five, six, seven times a day I would call the police, and pretty soon word on the street was you don’t want to go to that CVS anymore there is a crazy woman working there now..." Hoffert further explains her thwarted efforts to make a difference in the community. When she noticed that homeless people would take discarded food from the dumpsters behind the CVS, she tried to put the food aside for them so it was easier to reach. However, her manager soon reprimanded her and suggested that she pour bleach on the food instead to deter people from eating it--which Hoffert refused to do on principle. Hoffert exclaims, "It was wrong, a multi-billion dollar corporation had the ability to solve half the country's homeless food problem, and were pouring bleach on it, I said I want no part of that, and they said, we knew we would have trouble with you because you’re not from here, you’re not from Baltimore, you are an outsider, with your outsider point of view, your outsider morals, your outsider ethics, and this is what we do here, you’re not in Bethlehem anymore, and I said I won’t do it."

Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); communities; crime; food and drink; neighborhoods; professional relationships; safety; social classes; working conditions

45:41 - Daughter's Adjustment to New High School

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Partial Transcript: And how did, how was the high school, how did she [your daughter] adjust to the high school?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert suspected that her daughter's new school had poor resources available when she noticed that her daughter never brought home any homework, books, or papers to sign. Hoffert recalls, "So I went to the first PTA meeting I made a point to go there, and I talked to the teacher, and I said I don’t understand that this high school, she should be having some homework, and the teacher looked at me like I was an alien from outer space, and said oh no Mrs. Hoffert, she said, we could never let the books go home they would never come back. I said really, you know, and the level of education they got was substandard, they were just pushing them through, you know." Fortunately for Hoffert's daughter, she dedicated herself to sports and received the best athlete award.

Keywords: children; communities; education; family; social classes

46:47 - Loss of Pension and Change in Retirement Plans

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Partial Transcript: Now, meanwhile, so you’re struggling with all of these things in a new city, but, meanwhile, you’re supporting your household back at home in Bethlehem, right?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert and her husband kept their house in Bethlehem, where they planned to return after his retirement. Jeff had a seven year contract to work at the Sparrows Point Plant, after which he planned to retire with a full pension. However, the sale of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation negated the contract that Jeff Hoffert and his fellow workers had with the company twenty days before the contracts end. Hoffert shares, "Well, he was down there six years, eleven months and ten days, and they cancelled the deal. We missed it by 20 days, there was one man that missed it by one day. It was an outrage. Nobody could believe it, we couldn’t believe that that was even possible that they could cancel the deal. So, of course, we all went together and hired a lawyer to sue them, and the lawyer said he said you don’t have a case, he said in this contract in this little clause in the contract that none of us knew about it said that if they sold out before your time was up that the deal was null and void." The Sparrows Point Plant union offered Jeff Hoffert a job if he wanted to stay for an additional 12 years, but the family decided to move back to Bethlehem, where their pregnant daughter could start her family.

Keywords: benefits; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; education; family; home life; pensions; residences; Sparrows Point; unions; working conditions

50:37 - Family Difficulties

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Partial Transcript: So you had to do all of this work to get the father of your grandson back home to Bethlehem with you also?

Segment Synopsis: When the family moved back to Bethlehem, Hoffert had to make special travel arrangements for her grandson's father, because he was on probation at the time. Sadly, he broke "rule number one" by bringing drugs into the house, so she made the difficult decision to kick him out of the house. She remembers, "It was the hardest thing, cause he called me mom, and I looked at him as a son even though he had all these problems." Unfortunately, the house where her grandson's father was staying was raided in a drug bust and he spent the next several years in the state penitentiary. When their grandson's father went to prison, Judy and Jeff Hoffert took on more of a parenting role.

Keywords: child care; children; crime; family; home life; South Bethlehem (Bethlehem, Pa.)

52:36 - Hiring Discrimination against former Steel Workers and Financial Hardship

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Partial Transcript: So you moved back to Bethlehem, you’re working at CVS, your husband is looking for a job when he comes back, or is he retired now?

Segment Synopsis: When Jeff Hoffert's contract ended and his pension was suspended for several years, he was forced to look for other work in Bethlehem (Pa.). However, Judy Hoffert describes that former steel workers faced discrimination, "based on the fact that they thought the union workers were the ones that drove the plant into the ground. Based on that misconception that it was the workers not working hard enough that didn’t keep the plant open." Hoffert further explains the devastation caused by the loss of benefits and the betrayal that many people felt when the company closed and nullified their contracts. She also briefly explores some the difficulties caused by the global marketplace, explaining that the low price of foreign imported steel resulted in tremendous financial loss to the Bethlehem Steel Company.

Keywords: benefits; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; blast furnaces; family; pensions; politics; Sparrows Point; unemployment; unions

59:28 - Problems Faced by Younger Generations

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Partial Transcript: I wonder what you think of when you think about the next generation. I mean with the Bethlehem Steel income and job, and your work you sent two of your children through college, and as you look at the future of this of the next generation, what kinds of concerns do you have, what obstacles might they run into, what hopes do you have for them?

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert explains the many problems that she perceives for future generations, including the difficulty of buying a home, the need for both parents to work, the lack of pensions, and substandard health benefits. She also shares her worries about the government's priorities and what she perceives as general moral decline in society.

Keywords: child care; children; education; family; gender; gender roles; health; health insurance; home life; pensions; religion; social classes; wages; World War II

63:27 - Questioning the Moral Commitments of Corporations

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Partial Transcript: And, you know, I wonder if your experience going through this process with Bethlehem Steel also generates questions about the moral commitment of, you know, the corporations that built the American economy, to workers, to the country, to...

Segment Synopsis: Hoffert continues to share her skepticism about companies' moral commitments to take care of their employees. In Hoffert's view, "money perverts, money perverts people. Unless you have a strong faith, and I think most of the major corporations in this country are perverted in some way, and money is their only goal." Hoffert further shares difficulties that she faced while working at CVS, where she was injured and laid off.

Keywords: accidents; health insurance; laborers; religion

66:36 - Final Reflections and Advice for Steel Working Families

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Partial Transcript: So I wondered about just a sort of summarize or wrap things up, what kinds of reflections would you want to leave people with with thinking about this life in a steel working family?

Segment Synopsis: In this final segment, Hoffert reflects on the lack of employee loyalty and the preoccupation with making more money that she perceives in the workforce today. She sadly states, "Soon they’ll be a generation that won’t even remember that, that won’t remember the Steel company and that’s why Frank wanted to do this so badly, because like he said he didn’t want the children, the ones growing up on the South Side in full view of the blast furnaces, that they sit there not knowing what they were for, and the men that risked their lives to work there." Hoffert points out that it's important to share stories so that future generations will understand the history of South Bethlehem and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; blast furnaces; communities; death; family; South Bethlehem (Bethlehem, Pa.); wages

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