Here in Pittsburgh, you either worked in the steel industry or you know someone who did. Our city is synonymous with steel, not because of the industry itself, but because of the strong union that kept Steelworkers safe and ensured stability for many of our families.
I realized my connection to the Steelworkers one afternoon while helping my mom clear out old boxes. I found a photo of my dad holding a picket sign. My mom explained he was on strike with the Steelworkers, fighting for better pay and safer working conditions. The United Steelworkers fought to lift many of Pittsburgh’s families into the middle class—including mine.
Growing up, we lived in Sewickley, just outside Pittsburgh. I went to a good school, played on the football team and ran track. In the summer my parents sent me to the YMCA day camp and I played in the school band. I even had my own room.
Today, the steel industry that used to dominate Pittsburgh is giving way to low-wage service sector jobs. I work as a cashier at Arby’s making $8.75 an hour, and my mom works in food service at Allegheny General Hospital.
My mom, sister, the mother of my children and three kids and I live in a three-bedroom apartment that could fit inside the house I grew up in. I scrape for every last penny, even walking a mile and a half to work —in snowstorms and heat waves—across the Rachel Carson Bridge so I don’t have to buy a bus pass.
Though the stability of my childhood may be relegated to a box of photographs, fighting for dignity and a voice on the job remains in my blood.