‘Fam­ily’ of work­ers march

Steel­work­ers lo­cal leads pa­rade in down­town Beth­le­hem

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By An­thony Sala­m­one

A chance to com­bine a hol­i­day event with his­tory helped per­suade Greg Yemm to bring his fam­ily Sun­day morn­ing to the Steel­work­ers union pa­rade to mark La­bor Day.

“The fact is, or­ga­nized la­bor is about fam­ily,” Yemm said with his wife, Robyn, and their chil­dren, Lea and Con­nor, amid a block of marchers at the head of the pa­rade.

“Every gen­er­a­tion has seen the ben­e­fit of when the worker has the right to speak,” said Yemm, who lives in Jim Thorpe, works for Blue Ridge Com­mu­ni­ca­tions as a field ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and is a mem­ber of Steel­work­ers Lo­cal 2599 of Beth­le­hem, which or­ga­nized the event.

The 12th an­nual pa­rade, which also marked the 125th an­niver­sary of the fed­eral hol­i­day to cel­e­brate the work­ing per­son, stepped off from the Colo­nial In­dus­trial Quar­ter, off Spring Street. It trav­eled along Main, Broad and New streets, be­fore re­turn­ing to the in­dus­trial quar­ter.

Most pa­rade par­tic­i­pants came from or­ga­nized la­bor, in­clud­ing marchers and ve­hi­cles from Team­sters Lo­cal 773 and the Beth­le­hem Fire De­part­ment, which pro­vided a firetruck that brought up the rear of the march. Beth­le­hem po­lice as­sisted with traf­fic, and the Mo­ra­vian Col­lege Grey­hound March­ing Band pro­vided mu­sic.

Lo­cal and state politi­cians, po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates and elec­tion vol­un­teers at­tended, as did a group from Le­high-Po­cono Com­mit­tee of Con­cern, bet­ter known as Le­poco, with sev­eral vol­un­teers hold­ing poles be­neath a large sheet shaped as a peace dove.

The Steel­work­ers adorned an SUV with news­pa­per and other pho­to­graphs of la­bor ac­tions. Sev­eral shots showed a lengthy Steel­work­ers strike in 1941 against Beth­le­hem Steel Corp. That walk­out brought to a head years of la­bor strife be­tween Beth­le­hem Steel and its in­dus­trial work­force.

To Jerry Green, Lo­cal 2599 pres­i­dent, the pho­tos rep­re­sented the or­ga­niz­ing met­tle of to­day’s work­ers’ fore­fa­thers. “They paved the way for us to have bet­ter lives,” he said. “Peo­ple on strike were threat­ened; some even died. My idea is I want to keep the move­ment alive here.

“At one time, we had 30,000 peo­ple work­ing at that plant over there,” he said, re­fer­ring to the south Beth­le­hem clus­ter of fac­to­ries and of­fices, many of which have been razed and re­placed. “Now we’re down to 1,200, but I’m not quitting.”

Those 1,200 work­ers in Lo­cal 2599 still rep­re­sent steel or metal in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing Le­high Heavy Forge and Vic­taulic, but they also come from the pub­lic sec­tor, for ex­am­ple, cov­er­ing nurses at Northamp­ton County’s Gracedale.

Na­tion­ally, union mem­ber­ship con­tin­ues to be down. The Pew Re­search Cen­ter says in an on­line post that the share of Amer­i­can work­ers who be­long to or­ga­nized la­bor groups has fallen by about half dur­ing the last 35 years. In 2018, the union­iza­tion rate was 10.5%, with the ac­tual num­ber of mem­bers at 14.7 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics.

Most spec­ta­tors watched the pa­rade along his­toric Main Street.

Those in­ter­viewed said they came out in sup­port, even if they do not be­long to unions.

“We just un­der­stand all the things unions have done for work­ing peo­ple,” said Bob Lloyd of Up­per Sau­con Town­ship, a nonunion soft­ware de­vel­oper.

To Blue Ridge’s Yemm, who grew up in Sal­is­bury Town­ship and has been a long­time Steel­worker, to­day’s work­ers need to keep their minds open to or­ga­niz­ing.

“If you do noth­ing, noth­ing is ever go­ing to change,” he said, walk­ing with his fam­ily, who, like him, car­ried minia­ture Amer­i­can flags.

PHO­TOS BY SHARON K. MERKEL/SPE­CIAL TO THE MORN­ING CALL

Mem­bers of Steel­work­ers Lo­cal 2599 lead the Steel­work­ers and Friends La­bor Day Pa­rade on Sun­day morn­ing in down­town Beth­le­hem.

A marcher car­ries a flag dur­ing the pa­rade.

PHO­TOS BY SHARON K. MERKEL/SPE­CIAL TO THE MORN­ING CALL

The Mo­ra­vian Col­lege Grey­hound March­ing Band pro­vides mu­si­cal and flag-twirling en­ter­tain­ment dur­ing the La­bor Day Pa­rade.

Greg Yemm, left, and his daugh­ter Lea, 10, son Con­ner, 7, and wife, Robyn, march past Mo­ra­vian Col­lege in the Steel­work­ers and Friends La­bor Day Pa­rade on Sun­day morn­ing in down­town Beth­le­hem.

Work­ers ride on the Lo­cal 2599 float in the Steel­work­ers and Friends La­bor Day Pa­rade on Sun­day in down­town Beth­le­hem.

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