'30 Years Under The Beam'
ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS "30 Years Under The Beam" book author Frank Behum Sr. presented two framed photos, by artist Ed Leskin, originating and representing official photos from the steel workers' archives to two local persons who were interviewed in the book. Pictured from left are Bethlehem Steel workers George Pinkey (1964-1998) of Hometown who wrote the foreword to the book, author Behum and interviewee Wilmer Redline (1973-1997) of Jim Thorpe.
A book signing was held recently at the "I Said, Read Me" bookstore in Tamaqua for the book titled "30 Years Under The Beam: Bethlehem Steel Exposed. As Told By Those Who Worked There" by past Bethlehem Steel worker and author Frank A. Behum Sr. of Bethlehem.
The 496-page book contains a conversational perspective and insight of the daily operations at the Bethlehem Steel Plant as given by 47 male and female workers and superintendents, some of whom reside in Schuylkill and Carbon counties.
The book gives a narrated history of the last years of Bethlehem Steel. Public perception was that the union employees were responsible for its downfall, with inflated wages and benefits. In the book, they make their case to the contrary.
The Bethlehem Steel Corporation (1857-2003), situated in Bethlehem, was formerly the second-greatest steel producer in the United States, after Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based U.S. Steel. After a drop in the U.S. steel industry and management problems leading to the company's 2001 bankruptcy, the company was disestablished and the residual assets sold.
Bethlehem Steel was also one of the biggest shipbuilding companies in the world. Bethlehem Steel's demise is often noted as one of the most signaling examples of the U.S. economy's shift away from industrial manufacturing and its inability to compete with cheap foreign labor.
A blurb stated on the back of the book reads, "The workers at Bethlehem Steel carried the plant for its last 30-years hence the title and kept the plant going in spite of the ineptitude of Martin Tower. Contrary to what the media reported, the plant would have closed many years earlier if not for the extraordinary effort of the workforce. For the first time anywhere in print, a fresh perspective and new insight direct from the mouths of 47 workers and superintendents not the stuff that comes from the south end of a northbound mule. This is a real story; not what Bethlehem Steel wanted you to hear."
The cover of the book has a photo of many of the interviewees sitting below the Bethlehem Steel memorial emblem located in front of the Martin Tower in Bethlehem.
After being drafted in the Navy in 1965, Behum returned and worked in the plant as a steel defect scraper, scarfer, in 1972. Inspired by Thomas Petro Sr., he became a union advocate and the only man ever to become an officer and grievance committeeman in two locals of the United Steelworkers of America.