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Steelworkers union marks 75th anniversary

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:42 a.m.

A union that resists rust as readily as the stainless steel that it produces is celebrating 75 years of dedication to workers Friday.

The United Steelworkers Local 1196, located near the ATI-Allegheny Ludlum steel mill where most of its members work, is hosting a dinner for about 100 people at the Riverside Landing banquet hall in Oakmont to commemorate its anniversary.

Since joining the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1937, the predecessor of the USW, Local 1196 has fought for workers' rights.

A strike on March 25, 1937 at what was then known as Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp.'s Brackenridge Works in Harrison led to the establishment of Local 1196. In 1942, the union became one of the founding members of the United Steelworkers of America.

Local president Fran Arabia credits the hard-working immigrants of the 1930s with leading the nation in workers' rights.

“That's the backbone of everything,” he said. “That work ethic of those men.”

Arabia also said that the 1919 death of Fannie Sellins, an organizer for mine workers, helped galvanize the Valley's unions.

The dinner's guest speaker, Rich Gazarik, is the author of “Black Valley, The Life and Death of Fannie Sellins.”

In addition to forming earlier than the national steelworkers union, Local 1196 was at the forefront of a federal law mandating companies to reserve jobs for veterans drafted in World War II.

Another milestone for Allegheny Ludlum and the union was allowing women steelworkers.

Lee Ann Jendrejeski was one of the first women to enter the work force at the mill in 1976.

“As a whole, we were generally well accepted,” she said.

Jendrejeski is now retired and still holds respect for the union.

“It was actually a privilege for me to be a part of the union,” she said. “It treated me very well.”

Arabia agrees that being a part of 75 years of history is a point of pride for many union members.

“To be honest, it's very humbling,” he said. “For 75 years, nothing was given. Everything was fought for and struggled for.

“There have obviously been losses and gains, but today we have to thank everybody that's fought the fight.”

At the dinner, the union will honor its oldest living member, 96-year-old Carl Josephs, who started working at the mill in 1937.

Arabia said that while changes in the economy and technology have drastically altered the steel trade, much remains the same.

“Seventy-five years ago they had nothing, and they had to fight for what we have today,” Arabia said. “Today we have what they fought for and the struggle is to maintain that.”

He said that the goals — providing a paycheck for families and safety for workers — are still the same.

Kate Wilcox is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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