In the late 1980’s, the steel industry underwent tremendous changes including profit-margin decreases, foreign competition and new processes of steelmaking. It was a time when the gluttony of American industrialization was dwindling and cost-efficiency became the new dogma. To fight foreign competition and to keep steel mills working effectively, steel companies relied heavily on their workers to produce an enormous quota of steel a day. Under dirty, hazardous and unhealthy conditions, steel workers endured all the risks involved and remained loyal for decades. When steel companies started to falter in the late 1980's, bankruptcy was declared by many steel comanies and often used as a means to exit the industry. Unfortunately, the steelworkers were the ones that had to bear most of the hardship. Retired steelworkers who worked most of their lives at mills were left with pension checks that could barely cover minimal living costs and were suddenly responsible for all healthcare expenses. Now, the retired workers do what they can to survive. Some get minimum wage jobs for added income and others' are in extreme debt from old and new loans. Some say that the government is to blame, or the steel companies are at fault for their heavy bureaucracies. But in the broader context, these portraits are about the deterioration of corporate responsibility and the effects on individual workers and American society.
Walter, 84 years old, worked 42 years for LTV Steel as a blast furnance and maintenance laborer. “I lost two brothers in the mill, one to lead poisoning, one to stress on the job. Working in the maintenance department, we were dirty all over. There was constant noise, smoke, dirt, acid. OSHA came in and improved conditions. But then J &L Steel sold to LTV and management collected millions in the deal. Then LTV went bankrupt. For us, it’s getting harder and harder to live. Social security is being cut, premiums on insurance are high and the pension from LTV is fixed. We really don’t have anything.” (Chicago, IL)