Joe Kotelchuck

March 7, 2006

MR. BARRY:

We're with Joe Kotelchuck. It's March 7th, 2006, and we're going to talk about the steelworkers. How did you end up coming to Sparrows Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I originally lived in Brooklyn, New York. We came here during the war in 1943, and I ended up going to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School, and the counselor told me about Bethlehem Steel and there were apprenticeships opened, and I went down in '47 when I graduated from Poly and they were hiring. They were just looking for warm bodies at the time, they were hiring everybody, and I got an apprenticeship as a machinist, but that's how I got to the Point.

MR. BARRY:

How did your family come to Baltimore?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, my father had passed away when I was about a year old, and my brothers, couple of brothers and sisters supported my mother and myself, and there was no work in New York to speak of and you had the war industry here in Baltimore, so my mother and my sister and myself came up here and we moved to what was called Perkins Projects, and it originally was built for poor people. Then it was turned over to the war workers, anybody that worked in the war industry got a place there. We lived I think it was Dallas Court at the time.

MR. BARRY:

And where was the Perkins Project?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Around Pratt and Caroline in East Baltimore, and like I say when I graduated from Poly, I didn't go to college until later I took courses in college, University of Maryland. I was looking for work, and I spoke to the counselor from Poly, and he said there was openings in Bethlehem Steel, and I went down there and took the test for hiring, and they wanted to hire me immediately except I had trouble with my eyes, so it took another few days to get clearance on that, and I got hired as an apprentice machinist.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like the first day walking into work there?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I couldn't believe it. They were paying at that time $1.09 an hour for laborers. That was unheard of, $43 and change a week, and I never heard -- never made that kind of money right out of high school. I worked summer jobs and I worked one time for the B & O Railroad. I think they paid 44 cents an hour, which I think was the minimum wage. I was really in awe of it, started on the midnight term.

MR. BARRY:

How did you get to work?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I lived -- like I say, I lived in Perkins Project at the time, and I either rode with what's called the Red Rocket, which was the 13th street car, the 26. We called it the red rocket. It went up to Highlandtown town with the 10 bus and caught the 26 street car, or I eventually made friends with people down there and I got a ride in a car pool.

MR. BARRY:

The Red Rocket just ran all night?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Ran all night and all day.

MR. BARRY:

Just to accommodate all the workers at the Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, that was one of the places it went to, Sparrows Point. It went downtown. I had incidents where I was supposed to go into work in the late shift and fell asleep and I -- well, you couldn't overrun the run going to the Point, but coming back I would overrun it because I fell asleep, and the street car conductor didn't wake me up.

MR. BARRY:

How far did you go?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I went downtown wherever it went, and then I caught it back and missed the shift going back to sleep.

MR. BARRY:

So what were your impressions the first day when you went down, other than the money? Were you in the machine shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I was in the machine shop, and they started you off, they put you behind in the tool crib, and you were supposed to learn all the different tools that they would give out. People would come to the window of the tool crib, and they had brass checks and they would give you a brass check and they would say give me a one and a half-inch drill or give me a quarter-inch pipe tap and a wrench, and they asked you for the different things and they had all of the stuff. The tool crib also had a grinder where they ground drills and bits and whatever was used in the machine shop, and then eventually they put you on a machine, they either would put you on a floor to work with somebody, but during your four years they moved you around the whole machine shop, and you ran a lathe and a shaper, planer.

MR. BARRY:

And what were they making in the machine shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, they were turning out either material for the mills like shafts or gears or whatever they needed to produce steel or broken work came into the machine shop, and we took it apart and made new -- replacement parts for it so they could produce steel. They made -- over at blooming mills they made what they called hot blooms, and eventually they pressed it down into either sheets or cut it up and used it for various material.

MR. BARRY:

What's a bloom?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

A bloom is a big slab of steel which they made into a certain temperature and they made each one different -- I don't know if you would call it -- not intensity, but they had some were stronger than others, some were tougher, certain tenacity.

MR. BARRY:

Tensile steel?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, we were in all what you call the roughing end, and like I say the blooming mills and the blast furnace, the coke ovens where they made coke, and they used that to make steel. Later on they had -- (phone interruption.)

MR. BARRY:

Part of the interest of the tapes is to get people who don't understand the making of steel, the vocabulary and the process, so that's why I'm asking you about that. So when you started there, you were 18 years old. How many people worked in the machine shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Over 800 people worked in the machine shop, somewhere between 800 and 900 people worked three shifts in the machine shop, and they put you on -- while you are an apprentice, you worked partly on the midnight turn for maybe six months and then they put you on the daylight or 4:00 to 12:00 shift for six months, and you went around and around, but they were different. Out in the mills, they put you on a shift and you worked the shift for either a week or a month or over in the open hearth they actually worked three different shifts a week, but in the machine shop you worked as an apprentice, you worked all the different shifts, and then when you got out of your apprenticeship, the desirable shift was daylight, then they would post notices for it and you would bid on it, and if you had the time and the ability, you could get on daylight. Now there was a lot of people that they didn't like daylight, they liked the 4:00 to 12:00, they found it easier, it was less stressful, and then there was some that worked the midnight, they loved it. It was sort of you worked midnight all night and then -- I just say this because I think they cheated on their sleep, and then they went and did things during the day, maybe they fixed their car, got a haircut, went to the doctor, whatever got done, and they found that it was a lot easier working midnight. And daylight, when they said you worked daylight, I got up like I lived in northwest Baltimore, I got up at 5:30 in the morning so that I would be ready to go to work and be at work at a quarter after 7:00.

MR. BARRY:

When did you leave the Perkins Court?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I'm trying to think. I got married in December of '49. I think that's -- when I got married, I think that's when I left.

MR. BARRY:

Did your mother stay at Perkins Court?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, she remarried, and my sister moved to another house or an apartment, and my brothers -- like they both lived in New York and they helped us manage because my father was gone.

MR. BARRY:

So when you got married, did you move up here to this house?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No. When I got married, we lived in an apartment on Collington Avenue for a year, and then we lived on Brookfield and Whitelock, which was a real nice area at the time. Now it's kind of on the rough side, and eventually we lived on a street called Willaren Avenue, which also was northwest Baltimore near Park Heights and Garrison, and it was a real nice neighborhood, predominantly -- in northwest predominantly Jewish neighborhood. That's where I lived with my wife and started a family when I lived on Brookfield and Whitelock.

MR. BARRY:

Now obviously then you got a car?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah, I got -- we got a car and I would take my turn in the car pool. I was with something like three or four of the fellows and I drove one week out of the month, and also when I was in the machine shop I was always union conscious from New York because that was predominantly union, everything was union. Of course I joined the union, but I wanted to be a shop steward, and when I was an apprentice I told a fellow, a man named Jim Boyle who was what they called the grievance committeeman at the time, zone man that I wanted to become a shop steward, and he advised me against it because he said you're an apprentice, and they judge you every three or four months and they can always find something wrong. So I stood away from union stuff except to maybe go to the meetings until I finished my apprenticeship. Then I became a shop steward and became moderately active. Later on of course I got more involved, and I sort of went up the ladder in the union positions.

MR. BARRY:

Well, what was the union like when you first came into the machine shop? The steelworkers had just been in the Sparrows Point about five years, six years.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. I think the union actually started in 1942, and this fellow Jim Boyle, this man, he was really strong in the sense that one time I heard the story -- I wasn't there at the time they fired him, and when they fired him, the men wildcatted for three days, and then they took him back, and the union was very strong at the time. It wasn't until recently that they -- like I say when they had between 800 and 900 men in the machine shop, I think counting everybody at Sparrows Point they had 30,000 people, and now I understand they have got about two.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like being in a place with 30,000 people?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I really liked it. I had never seen anything like it, and with all of those people, and I found my co-workers very friendly, and I didn't really run into any type of problems, and when I said about the money, you said beside the money, well, the money was the big thing. It was funny you made a dollar nine an hour to start with, and every six months I think it was you got upgraded, and when you finally came out of your time, I think the rate was about -- for a machinist $1.66 I think it was, and then we always said boy, if we could make -- at that time if we could make a hundred dollars we would be sitting on top of the world. Well, eventually we did make a hundred dollars and then you looked at another figure.

MR. BARRY:

One of the things that happened after the war was the integration of some of the locker rooms down there. Was that a problem by the time you got there for the machine shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, it was a problem, I mean not limited to the machine shop. The union forced integration, but there was still a lot of people that were against it, and I remember when they put up a notice -- it was an unwritten law that in the machine shop that the black workers could only be riggers, crane operators, helpers -- well, not even helpers, and one time they put up this notice that said drill press operator wanted, and one of the black crane fellows put in for it, and they just took it down, and we went in to see about it, but they said well, they changed their mind, but they kept putting it up, putting it down, and then finally he stopped putting in for it and then they got a white worker.

MR. BARRY:

Well, how were the officers of the union -- who was the president of 2610 at that time?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

A fellow named John Klauzenberg, little guy out of electrical repair shop. He was a C-rate machinist. He was scraping babbitt bearings and that was rated as C rate.

MR. BARRY:

And how was he as a president?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I thought he was good. He was an honest sincere type of guy, and I got along with him. Of course later on in union politics, there was a falling out and he got knocked out of the office, and one of his best friends -- I'll think of his name, took his place. I think he was the vice-president and he was the black man and he was the first president, black president of the 2610.

MR. BARRY:

Not Bartee?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, Bartee came later. This was -- I can't think of his name.

MR. BARRY:

That's all right. I'll look it up. Was there any talk when you first started working there about organizing the union? Did guys have stories to tell or memories of it?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I don't know what you mean by organizing the union.

MR. BARRY:

Well, when the union drive started in late 30's and up through '41 or obviously by the time you came to work there, there would have been people who had been through that campaign.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah.

MR. BARRY:

Would they talk about it?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, they talked about it at organizers. There was Phil Murray was the president of the international. I think he came from the coal miners, and as far as organizing, they went into some of these small areas to organize like up in Highlandtown there were different companies, and there was always a problem, but they had union organizers and they were pretty tough type of guys, and the people that worked for the international, they did organizing, too, and they sort of worked like day and night, and they sent them all over the place, and they had the conventions in Atlantic City, I remember that, and that was before gambling.

MR. BARRY:

Did you ever meet a guy named Neil Crowder?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Who?

MR. BARRY:

Neil Crowder.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No.

MR. BARRY:

He was from 2609. He was one of the in-plant organizers.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I never heard -- that's funny, I never heard the name, and I think I knew them all.

MR. BARRY:

He's still around. I actually have a great interview with him.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I wonder how come I never heard his name.

MR. BARRY:

But people like Don Kellner say that everything they knew about the union Neil Crowder taught them.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah?

MR. BARRY:

He's a wonderful, wonderful guy. The period of '47, '48, '49 when you were a young guy, the political activities, the Taft-Hartley Act and stuff, did that have an impact on the shop at all?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, that was really controversial, and -- yeah, it definitely had an impact, and I remember at that time I was one of the Henry Wallace supporters, and he was the third party, and there was a lot of stink about that, but the union still basically went Democrat.

MR. BARRY:

Why did you support Henry Wallace?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I thought that he was the best thing for the day, that he was for the workers and for the labor people, and he had been a Democrat -- I think he was vice-president one time, and then he ran for president, and I thought he was the best man, but it just wasn't to be.

MR. BARRY:

Were there a lot of discussions in the shop? Were people politically interested at that time?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, there wasn't too many discussions in the shop, but there was a lot of discussions at the union hall, at the meetings they had controversy.

MR. BARRY:

So what was it like when you became a steward?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, when you became a steward, you had a certain amount of power. You went in to see the foreman when somebody thought something was wrong and you tried to get it straightened out, and later on when I became what they called the zone committeeman for zone -- let me see, zone six, the machine shop -- it covered the machine shop, blacksmith shop and car repair shop, and they had -- well, in those three shops, the blacksmith shop had about 200 people and the car repair shop had about 200. The blacksmith shop went down to nothing and they did away with it, and the car repair I think they eventually fit it in with the iron workers. The car repair built and assembled and disassembled railroad cars.

MR. BARRY:

That were used inside the plant?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Right.

MR. BARRY:

The Back River railroad?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, the Back River and back -- that was a different group.

MR. BARRY:

So when you became the zone person, what year was this; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I'm trying to think of what year it was. I think roughly in the late 60's.

MR. BARRY:

So you were there for almost 20 years before you got to be a zone man?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, probably.

MR. BARRY:

Well, let's go back a little bit then. Do you remember the 1959 strike?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Sure. That was 16 weeks, we were out 159 days.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like? What was it before the strike? Was there a lot of talk?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, the people backed the strike. Nobody thought it would go that long, and we had a lot of problems with it. We went through any savings that we had, the wife got a part-time job, which was really hard because one of the questions that they asked everybody was where does your husband work, and when she said Sparrows Point, they said no, we're not going to hire you because as soon as they settle, he will go back and we will lose you, and it really was the truth, and then some guys got jobs on the outside. They didn't tell them they worked at Sparrows Point. Most of them said they did work at Sparrows Point and if you hired them they would stay, but these companies never believed that.

MR. BARRY:

So what was the strike operation here? Were you involved in that at all?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yes, I was on one of the committees that gave out food to people and helped approve loans to pay the rent so people didn't get dispossessed. It was a big operation.

MR. BARRY:

Where was the union hall then?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, the union hall under Klauzenberg was on Lombard Street, somewhere near Highland Avenue. It was a storefront place, and they had an office up at the top, and then we had our meeting there.

MR. BARRY:

And did you distribute food during the strike?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yes, we distributed food. They bought a lot of sacks of potatoes and canned goods, and they gave it out to people.

MR. BARRY:

Was there the hope that the Government was going to intervene during the strike?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I don't remember which strike it was, but there was one strike we went out for one day, Truman was the President. Truman said he wanted to see Bethlehem's books. As soon as he said he wanted to see the books, they settled the strike. It lasted one day.

MR. BARRY:

Do you remember what the strike was over?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, it always was over either wages, or one time it was over health benefits, and we were paying something like ten dollars and change a month for health benefits, and they arranged it that instead of getting a raise or anything like that, the company would pay the health benefit, but no raise.

MR. BARRY:

And so the guys were unhappy with that?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

They were happy, very happy with it, because it was just another thing -- well, when you pay for health benefits, it was like they gave you a raise with one hand and took it back with the other, but this way you got it, you didn't pay tax on it, and whenever you had to go to the hospital or you needed pharmaceuticals, that was one of the best plans around. When they said what kind of coverage have you got, you always said Blue Cross Blue Shield, I work at Bethlehem Steel, and that was it.

MR. BARRY:

Did you find in the period -- one of the things that's interesting is how people move away from the place they worked, because when you started there, you lived relatively close to the plant, and then as soon as you got some money and got married, you moved a fair distance, a distance away where you had to drive. Did you find a lot of workers did that?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah. Some of them -- the ones who lived in Dundalk, of course they didn't move, they were happy with Dundalk and ten minutes to work, but everybody else. There was some -- a lot of workers bought houses on North Point Road, and used houses sold for about $4,000 and new ones for $6,000 and $8,000, and there was a lot of guys that come back from the service who were getting -- either going through school under the GI bill or making loans through the government, getting a lower rate of interest.

MR. BARRY:

Well, did the fact that people move away have an impact on the union do you think?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, I don't think it had any impact on -- we heard stories like where they put in -- there was always a debate on piecework incentive, and some people believed in it and some people didn't believe in it. The union originally thought that you should be guaranteed your wages, and they believed in a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, but the company always wanted to put incentive in because that was a way of getting the worker to work harder or produce more, and it definitely worked, and I don't know what year it was, but the union took a 180-degree turn and tried to put everybody except the laborer on an incentive.

MR. BARRY:

And what were the arguments? Big arguments at the hall and in the shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. Well, the people who didn't have incentive and stood a chance to get incentive and make more money, they were definitely for it. We went to Washington, we had meetings. I don't remember the year, but I was the chairman of the grievance committee, and I went along on the meetings. I don't know how much of an input the people like myself had. I went to contract negotiations, and on the one hand I really thought that I was part of the makeup for negotiating for wages and other stuff, but the first meeting I went to on in the negotiations I was thrilled to death. I got a letter, a telegram in the mail saying you are part of the steel negotiating committee, be in Pittsburgh at such and such a date. I went there and I thought I'm on the committee, that's great. Do you know how many people were on the committee? 600. So then I realized that hey -- yeah, I put my two cents in, but the people up at the top did the big work like of money and holidays and vacations.

MR. BARRY:

Who were the officers of the international at that time? Dave McDonald?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, Dave McDonald was a president and later was --

MR. BARRY:

I.W. Able?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I.W. Able, Dave McDonald and one that was out of Canada.

MR. BARRY:

George Becker? Lynn Williams.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Lynn Williams, yeah, he was a good guy.

MR. BARRY:

Did you ever have any experience with Dave McDonald?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, I had experience with Lynn Williams. Lynn Williams came down one time and he was going to speak at a meeting of laborer and management, and they were building a hotel downtown and they were trying to get union labor, but the builders fought them, and I.W. Able put his two cents in, but it really didn't change anything.

MR. BARRY:

Well, you said you went to college?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah.

MR. BARRY:

When did you start that?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Once when I was in the shop I was talking to one of the men and he said they got a program at the University of Maryland called -- you got a certificate. It had to do with shops, it had to do with -- also there were nurses that went there to pick up credits. You had public speaking, you had writing and you picked up 16 credits, and it allowed you to teach, because I ended up teaching labor courses, union courses, and I taught at Dundalk Community College and also taught at some labor halls. I once taught a labor course in South Baltimore for the sugar workers, Domino Sugar workers, and -- I'm trying to think of what the name that they called the course.

MR. BARRY:

Did you have to go to College Park to take these courses?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, went downtown on Green Street, University of Maryland downtown, and you took them in the evening, and it allowed you to get credits, and some of these credits were transferable if you had wanted to go during the day and then other ones -- and there was a certain requirement that you had to make -- industrial arts, that's what it was called, and we had all different types of people, from industry and also like I say nurses were taking courses there, but industrial arts is what it was called.

MR. BARRY:

Well now, when did you start college? Do you remember what year?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, I don't really remember what year, but I was active in the union. I was either a grievance committeeman or chairman of the grievance committee, because I went up the ladder from what we called shop steward, grievance committeeman, or we called them zone men at the time. I became chairman of the grievance committee. Then I ran for election, and the first time I ran, I lost.

MR. BARRY:

Whom did you lose to; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I think Ivory Dennis had won at the time, he won by three votes, and the next time I ran -- well, Casey Robinson was the president and Ivory Dennis came along and he won, and then the next time I beat Ivory Dennis, and I became president for two terms, and that was sort of -- I ran several times after that, but that was the end of the political career. I did become grievance man again for the shop and the car shop and the blacksmith shop.

MR. BARRY:

How come you kind of cut back on your activities?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

What do you mean; now?

MR. BARRY:

No, then. You said you ran for local president. Did you get defeated?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I got defeated, and like they said, they are trying to tell you something.

MR. BARRY:

Who beat you; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, one time it was the treasurer -- I'm trying to think what his name was. This is terrible.

MR. BARRY:

That's okay. Now, were you around when the union halls were built?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I was around when the first union hall was built, and that was Baltimore contractors had got the bid, and they built the first union hall.

MR. BARRY:

Which one was first; 09 or 10?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I think 09 was first and 10 -- there was so many people that they needed another hall, and then they built 10.

MR. BARRY:

Now, when they built those halls and before, were there always the two big locals, one for the steel side and one for the finishing side?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. If you had their backing, you pretty much were in, and like Dave Wilson was the -- not Dave Wilson.

MR. BARRY:

Al Atallah?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, Atallah was the district director that started and later was Ed Plato, and Ed Plato definitely controlled 2609, and 2610 backed him, too, so he became district director and Primo Padeletti was in there for a little while and then Dave Wilson came. I had backed Dave Wilson. In the beginning, the first time around Wilson wasn't running and I backed Plato, and then the next time around it was Wilson against Primo Padeletti, and I backed Dave Wilson.

MR. BARRY:

Were they hotly contested elections?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah, they were really something, and then there was a lot of small locals that contributed. You had to win either 2609 or 2610.

MR. BARRY:

What were the elections like in the shop; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, when they ran for grievance committeeman, zone man, you pretty much -- if you were in the machine shop, you had the advantage. There was a fellow that ran from the car repair shop and then one time they had a small department called scale repair. Frank Rose ran against me and he really got beat, and yet years later he ran for president and he won that election.

MR. BARRY:

There are a couple of things that happened after you became active in the union. We had a program last week about the black steelworkers lawsuit. Do you remember any of that activity in the late 60's, early 70's?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, the blacks filed a claim of discrimination, which it definitely was, and they were trying to figure out who was discriminated against, and Bernie Parrish sort of handled that, and they paid -- I don't remember how much they paid, 7 or 12 -- I think it was $7 million they paid out, and Jim Harmon was put in to help distribute this money. There was a lot of -- some blacks said it wasn't enough and they wouldn't take the money, and other ones like Ivory Dennis said don't believe what's going to happen in the future, what's in your hand, take it, and he took it as one of the ones that took it. So the majority took it and then others that still filed a further claim.

MR. BARRY:

Was it a big issue dispute in the shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, we didn't have that many blacks working in the machine shop, just a hand full. Like I say later on they did become drill press operators. There was some apprentice machinists who became machinists and toolmakers. There was a fellow I remember as rate setter, but there wasn't that many.

MR. BARRY:

But did it become an issue in the local when you went to the meetings; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah, it was a big issue, a big fight on it like who should get what and how much they should get. Yeah, that went on for a long time. Then finally between Bernie Parrish and Jim Harmon, who came on later working for the international -- I don't know who made the decision I guess between the union and the company what they were going to pay out, who would get what. So they paid the blacks for being discriminated against.

MR. BARRY:

There was another gentleman Francis Brown.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I knew Francis Brown. He was very active fighting for black issues. Yeah, he was active.

MR. BARRY:

Did some of the white workers oppose this whole move?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Not that I remember. They just wanted to be involved in the payout.

MR. BARRY:

What were the biggest issues when you became local president that you had to deal with?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I don't know what the issues were at that time. There was always something in there about wages. It was funny, we always said you could close your eyes and if the fellow talked about wages and vacations and holiday pay, he was a young guy. If he talked about retirement and Blue Cross Blue Shield, he was a guy that was getting close to retirement and was thinking in terms of the future.

MR. BARRY:

Well, did you have a sense as you were going on that the American steel industry was going to be in trouble?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I never thought -- I thought that Bethlehem Steel and company would last forever. No, I didn't think they would be in trouble, and it was only later on when we started having trouble where Bethlehem kept going in the hole, and what was happening in my mind was that the foreign steel was being subsidized. They were also paying the workers there for sickness and everything else, and with us, when Bethlehem put in at times as much as 300 million dollars toward these different benefits, they became more and more an obstacle to try to overcome.

MR. BARRY:

Some people have said that Bethlehem was too many managers. Did you ever have that --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, they were top heavy, and I think that that went against them, but I don't think that that was -- though they were top heavy and they paid them, they got people in and they paid them good wages, and if they didn't work out, they let them go and they paid off their salary, but that wasn't what turned it around. I think it was the foreign companies were -- we could outproduce them, we could outwork them and we just had too much overhead, at least that's what I thought.

MR. BARRY:

I mean is it ironic now that it's owned by a foreign company?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. It's hard to believe, but we always jokingly said we fought the Japanese and they can one day come in and take over or the Arabs, because they are the ones that have the money.

MR. BARRY:

Well, how have you felt over the last five years about the end of Bethlehem Steel and the changeover?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I wasn't happy, but when this other company took over -- of course they really took everything away from us. They took away your medical benefits, your pharmaceuticals, your pension, your insurance. Luckily the Government had a program to pick up your pension, so I still get a pension and Social Security. Of course now I pay my own Blue Cross Blue Shield and my own pharmaceutical, so I can manage, but had they taken away the pension and the Government not picked it up, I and millions others like myself would be in deep trouble.

MR. BARRY:

When did you retire?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I retired in August of '91, almost 15 years ago.

MR. BARRY:

So you worked there --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Forty-four years.

MR. BARRY:

And after you were president of the local and you came back in the shop, did you stay politically active or were you --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I went right back to being a shop steward, because I think you only needed five votes to become a shop steward, and I always was active as a shop steward, and -- yeah, I stayed active.

MR. BARRY:

That's a long time to work at one place.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, if you are going to work somewhere, why not work there.

MR. BARRY:

If you had to do it over again, would you go back and start at Bethlehem Steel at the age of 18?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Sure, I thought it was a good place to work. As it turned out, a lot of people got asbestosis or I don't know if they call it red lung or black lung, but a lot of people got sick, and at the time before Peter Angelos picked up on the asbestosis, they had a company lawyer who said there was no industrial diseases. Of course he was -- and later on he got let go and he just said -- they got on him because he never told the worker that they were dying of this disease. He said I was working for the company, I told the company.

MR. BARRY:

What kind of safety issues did you have in the machine shop?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, they had safety issues. Asbestos was one of them, getting hurt on the job. I mean in the other places like the open hearth and the blast furnace and the coke ovens, they had polluted air, and you had to end up wearing a type of a mask, and in the blast furnace they wore these rubber -- real thick rubber-soled shoes to work on top of the furnace because the floors were so hot. But one person did get killed in the machine shop, but basically the machine shop they got stitches and burns from hot chips and maybe lost a finger or something like that.

MR. BARRY:

When you were the president of 2610, did you get over into the open hearth and the coke ovens at all?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yes.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like? Can you describe it?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, we went down, we got a call one time and we went down to the blast furnace, and in order to show us what it was like, we put on clothing to work in there and we sifted the -- it wasn't sand. It was some type of material and it was so hot, so strenuous. There were two, maybe three gangs. A gang worked for 15, 20 minutes, and then you quit, and then another gang came in and did the same thing and then they quit and then they went back. By the way, it just came to me that one of the presidents that beat me was a fellow named -- my treasurer Donald Ervin or Ervine.

MR. BARRY:

So you went through those safety issues and you went down in the blast furnace. Were there activities around trying to prevent the accidents or people just were accepting that it was hazardous?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Sometimes they would call up -- they had what they called Article 13, Section 3, if you thought that it was over and above the normal, you could invoke Article 13, Section 3, and the company would send a man down and the union would send either the president or the chairman of the grievance committee and they would take the man off the job and stop the job and try to settle the issue.

MR. BARRY:

And a worker could refuse the job if they thought it was really unsafe under that article?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

They could refuse it, but if he was wrong, he stood a chance of getting penalized, a day off or something, and a lot of times it wasn't right. One time I got called, we were up on top of a shutdown blast furnace, and they wanted the welders to go into the shutdown blast furnace to do some welding, and they said that it was too hazardous. Later on, management, one of the top management people came and they said they are going to work this job overtime, and the overtime seemed to change some of those people's minds. Suddenly it wasn't that hazardous. They put a rope around the welder and tied the rope off somewhere up top so that if something happened and they fell, they were held by the safety harness and a rope.

MR. BARRY:

When you were living up here, did you ever go into the town of Sparrows Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah.

MR. BARRY:

Before it was torn down?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. One time Sparrows Point -- I talked to people that lived there and they had a setup there and it was letters, and the foreman and the management people that were like sitting on top, they had either A Street or B Street or something like that, and the regular workers had the rest of it, and normally you talked about company towns as being really terrible, but I understand the Bethlehem company town was pretty good. They had stores that sold company stuff and they had the best of everything. The only problem was a lot of times if people wanted -- needed some money, they would get these chips to buy stuff, sometimes they would buy with them. Sometimes they would use them and they sold it to other fellows at a reduced rate, and when the check came, sometimes they got nothing in their check.

MR. BARRY:

So you would drive in from here, park. How far did you have to walk to get to the machine shop? Was the parking lot right out in front?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

It wasn't bad. I would say it was about two blocks to walk, had a nice big parking lot. Of course my problem that I looked at the job would say well, what do you think of the job? Well, if I can get passed getting up at 5:30 in the morning and driving from where I lived 25 miles one way, otherwise I liked the job, I liked the company work, the union work, and even though we had different disagreements, I found it was a good place to work.

MR. BARRY:

Well, you talked about being involved in the Wallace campaign. There were other people from the shop that were involved and then this House of America activities committee came in in 1957. Do you remember anything about that?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I didn't run into that much trouble about that. They had some fights up at the union hall and some disagreements and name calling, and over at 2609 they let -- they fired some people, but it wasn't that much of it that I was involved in.

MR. BARRY:

Do you remember it as a tough time though for the local in the area?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, they pointed the finger at different people, and they come to find out later that some of the people that were making allegations -- I can't remember the man's name, but he said -- well, it was a woman and a man, they were naming names of different people, and it came out later that they named people they couldn't possibly even know, they couldn't see or know as many people as they testified against.

MR. BARRY:

What about another period that came into -- it was the late 60's, early 70's, kind of the cultural resolution and anti-war stuff, was that an issue in the plant; do you remember? You would have been an officer by this time.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I remember first was the Korean War and everybody was sort of gung ho, you were either for it or you were un-American if you were against it. But the company put in for different workers. In fact, I was one of them where the company put in and said that they needed me, and I got a deferment and I never did go into the Korean War. They wanted to draft me, and I still remember dealing with the man on the draft board, his name was Simon. He was a florist in East Baltimore, and he basically said the company asked for a deferment he said. We're going to take everybody except like half of one percent, and he said we're going to get you, but I guess the company had enough pull, I never did go.

MR. BARRY:

He didn't direct that at you personally; did he?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, it was a general statement. He had lost a son in the second world war and I think he was bitter.

MR. BARRY:

Was your wife from Sparrows Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, no, my wife was from East Baltimore, up around Patterson Park.

MR. BARRY:

Did you meet her while you were working at the Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah.

MR. BARRY:

And she got used to the shift work and raising kids under shift work?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I didn't really work shift work. The only thing I was on the 4:00 to 12:00 shift for four years. She wasn't too happy with it and I definitely wasn't happy, though it was probably the easiest time I had. It was almost like you got up late, you had your breakfast or your lunch and then you sort of waited for your rider to pick you up. You went to work and came back home, got home by midnight and had something, coffee or something to drink or eat, and you went to bed and went on, and then by the time you were off on the weekend, you basically in my opinion lost your friends.

MR. BARRY:

So you had to recapture all those friendships?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, but luckily I didn't stay on night turn too long. A four-year apprenticeship where I went to the different shifts, four years of 4:00 to 12:00, and then I went on daylight for the rest of the time. Half the time I was at the union hall, half the time I worked at the company.

MR. BARRY:

After you retired, what did you do?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, when I retired, I was still active in the -- it's a group called SOAR, Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees. I was the secretary there. I was also secretary in something called Maryland -- it was Reverend Miller.

MR. BARRY:

Maryland Labor Education?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Maryland Labor Education where I was the secretary there, and I was secretary in a few organizations, about four of them at one time.

MR. BARRY:

Now, were you friendly with Reverend Miller?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, I was real friendly with Reverend Miller.

MR. BARRY:

Tell us about that. I will share this with Mary, I'm sure she would love to hear it.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, Reverend Miller ran things, and he was -- we sort of laugh and joke about it. At that time they had a lot of people in the Maryland Labor Education Association and they were struggling for money. You paid a little dues. I think it was three bucks a month or something, and much later on like now they are still busy, they are still active, but when they first started they must have had 30 or more people would come to a meeting, and like I say didn't have any money. Now they have got half a dozen to a dozen people coming to meetings, and they do have money, so times have changed. But Reverend Miller, he was very versatile, and he put me through work -- he was head of something at Dundalk Community College, and there was another college that he was active in.

MR. BARRY:

McHenry Bible Institute?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, McHenry, right, and he taught courses there. He always said that he could teach any course whether he knew it or not. After three days reading up on it, he could teach you how to shoe horses.

MR. BARRY:

So what did you teach?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I taught grievance committee work. I once taught a parliamentary class. I taught blueprint reading. Let's see what else. Like I say I taught grievance procedure, I taught it to the sugar workers. I held various classes. I also filled in for some of the people at Dundalk Community College when they wanted to go away on vacation or for a few days, I took over their class.

MR. BARRY:

Did you ever know a guy named Don Yost?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Sure, he worked in the machine shop. He was a machinist, and later he was a -- I'm trying to think what you call them, like similar to apprentice instructor. Somebody came up with the idea that once you came out of your time as a machinist in the machine shop, they either put you on the lathe or a layout table or on the floor and you stood there, and when they worked weekends, which they had a skeleton crew for the weekend, a lot of times the person couldn't necessarily make keys or run big machines, so they decided that they are going to start retraining all the machinists that they can do either everything or at least a lot of things.

MR. BARRY:

Like cross training?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Like what?

MR. BARRY:

Like cross training?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, training you back for the work that you should have been able to do but you hadn't done in a long time, and Yost was one of the instructors, and we had about four different people that came out of the machine shop and became head honchos at Dundalk Community College for mechanical studies. We had Yost. We had -- let me see.

MR. BARRY:

Did you ever meet Dave Ledford?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, Dave Ledford is a good friend of mine. I taught some classes for him. I still remember when I went in and filled in for him in a class, and there was young people there from one of the outfits that sent the people there for training, and he introduced me and he said, "Joe has worked at the Point, he is retired now, but he worked at the Point 44 years," and one of the young guys raised his hand and he said, "My mother isn't even 44." So they felt it was a long time and it was like ancient history.

MR. BARRY:

Because Dave is still around.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, yeah, Dave is still around, but he teaches I understand a class here and there. He taught welding, which I could never teach welding because I never welded, but he welded, and he also spends a good bit of his time or at least he did playing golf.

MR. BARRY:

He was the head of the grievance committee at 2610. Was he there --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No. As far as I know he wasn't head of the grievance committee.

MR. BARRY:

Or he was a zone --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

He was a zone committeeman, grievance committeeman.

MR. BARRY:

Was he there while you were the officer?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, he ended up taking my place. I got sick for awhile and he took my place and then later he ran and became grievance committeeman.

MR. BARRY:

For the skilled trades machine shop area. Now, does Bethlehem Steel still have a machine shop, or has that been sold over to Voerst Alpine?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I think it's sold over to Voerst-Alpine.

MR. BARRY:

Because I know that Voice Alpine does machining work there, it's up on North Point Road, it's outside --

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I don't think they have anymore, but originally a lot of the workers at Voice Alpine were retirees from the machine shop.

MR. BARRY:

And so Bethlehem Steel just basically phased out the machine shop, subcontracted it out?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, we had a lot of battles on that. They were sending work to Voice Alpine. Sometimes they paid us a grievance settlement that they admitted they sent it out and we should have done and we got certain monies, but most of the time they were sending that work out.

MR. BARRY:

Was that issue of subcontracting always an issue for you?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, it always was an issue, and as far as I was concerned it never really got settled.

MR. BARRY:

Were there construction subcontracting that went on that was an issue for your local?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Construction?

MR. BARRY:

Well like Langenfelter, some of these outside outfits that come in.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, well, the truck drivers were always complaining. There were guys in Langenfelter that had more seniority on the Point than the truck drivers, and also I remember one time we picketed the main office, and Dewey Parks was the grievance man for the electrical repair shop, and he said that we can fix these motors that you are sending down the road, we can fix them cheaper than you can send it down the road. They didn't want to hear it, and they came and got the police and told us all to disband, and we wouldn't disband, so they ended up taking our pictures and they ended up arresting us all, not right then and there. They come out with summons and tell you you had to appear in court at a certain time.

MR. BARRY:

Did they come to your house with those summons?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. I remember a State Trooper came here, gave me a summons, and for awhile there you was on record as being arrested for trespassing.

MR. BARRY:

What year was this; do you remember roughly?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

No, I'm retired fifteen years. I would say it was about 25 years ago.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like when you started thinking about retiring? Did you look forward to it or did you have mixed feelings?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I didn't really think about retirement. I was going to work even longer, but I ended up back in '89, '88, '89 had a heart attack, and I was in laying in the hospital and I was thinking what the hell am I working for? I'm not going to become rich. I've had enough, 44 years and so --

MR. BARRY:

Were your children grown and gone by then?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I was 62. Let me see how old my boy was. Fifteen years ago, well he was 52, 42, 37.

MR. BARRY:

So he was well out of the house?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, he was well out of the house, and my daughter was just a few years younger, and my younger son is about 12 years younger than her, so they were -- let me see, the youngest was about 25, yeah. I was looking forward to retirement.

MR. BARRY:

What was it like the first day that you didn't have to go back to Sparrows Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I don't really remember. Dave Ledford organized the retirement party for me and they gave me a watch, and they had something -- I think it was one of the military hall, not the military hall, but --

MR. BARRY:

VFW?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah, one of those places out around in Dundalk, and they had a nice -- it was a nice tribute they gave me.

MR. BARRY:

Well, then the next morning did you wake up at 5:30?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Oh, no, I never got to the point -- with all those years of working, some people like you say they continued to get up, but I struggled to get up at 5:30 all my life. Many a time I went back to sleep and then going flying down the road, and I was either late or just made it. I function better after nine o'clock in the morning at the union hall.

MR. BARRY:

So then you just spent your retirement doing retirees' work and grandchildren and stuff like that?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. Like I say I was active in all these different retired activities. I was the secretary. Yeah, I enjoyed it.

MR. BARRY:

If there was anything that you were going to say to younger workers at the Point to kind of a guide to the future, what would it would be?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

I don't know what I could tell them. I'm not even sure what's going on down there right now. My understanding -- I still talk to men whose -- some of whose children work there, and like this one fellow has two sons working there, they are working overtime up the gazoo, and they are real happy with it. Of course they are not hiring anybody anymore. I don't know what kind of battles they have got going on down there, but they are speculating what they are going to do because this company is talking about buying another company, and you sort of wonder why is this one making out and the others don't. Well, they don't have the same overhead, they don't pay any -- I don't know what the pension setup is. I think it's a 401K pension setup. They don't pay -- I think they pay something toward the medical. I don't know even how that works, and the pharmaceutical, and the pharmaceutical I think they pay for the worker, they don't pay for his wife or kid.

MR. BARRY:

We had a discussion last week in class with Mark Reutter who came and wrote the book on Sparrows Point, but some of the workers that I have in my class have been there five years and they say they are making huge amounts of money, but we say that a lot of that is retirees' money, you know it's almost like blood money, that its company cuts off all the older workers, and so that they can't separate themselves from what all of you did to build the union and build the company.

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, I think there are different eras. When the union first came in, the people were conscious of how the union really helped you, and later on all the younger people came in and didn't realize what the union did. It was an entirely different story.

MR. BARRY:

When you first started working there in '47, did people tell stories about what it was like before the union came in; do you remember?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Yeah. There were stories about the foreman would come along and maybe somebody had screwed up a job or done something wrong, he would fire them on the spot and maybe take them back the next day or a few days later.

MR. BARRY:

Anything else that you can remember down there, stories that you would tell your grandchildren about working at Sparrows Point?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

A lot of times they joke about you break for lunch or for supper and people would take a nap, and one time they had open house and they brought -- people brought their kids in, and the kids came around and they stood there like through lunch time and they went up the locker room, people were sleeping in the locker room, and this one kid said doesn't anybody work around here?

MR. BARRY:

Was it ever considered that your kids would go to work there?

MR. KOTELCHUCK:

Well, no, my kid never considered it, and I got my son, my oldest son a job in the summer part days. They used to hire a lot of part-time work in the summer when people were on vacation, and we always laughed about it because he went to work in a labor gang in the blast furnace and it took him about three days to learn to sleep on the floor with something under his head, and he also was making at that time -- he was going to college and he was making good money. They worked a day overtime and they shifted every week, and he stood there about three weeks, and then he went to work at this job that he had put in for at the summer camp. He liked to do that type of work. So he said -- here he was making about a thousand bucks a week with the overtime and the shift work and he went to work at a summer job at camp. How could