PITTSBURGH: Workers’ Struggle Begins at Steel Foundry, Supervisor Targeted

Photo: Home of Pierre Heinbaugh after being vandalized by supporters of Pittsburgh steel workers.

By Alex Meins (Corrections have been made to this article for better accuracy)

The capitalists and management of McConway & Torley Co., the last steel foundry in Pittsburgh, have recently lengthened the workday to inhumane hours, pushing the intensity of the work to a point of barbarity and forcing one worker to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion. In response last week, the home of Pierre Heinbaugh, the work lead supervisor who oversaw the hospitalized worker and who has continued to deny “heat breaks” after the incident, was tagged with a hammer and sickle and a large poster was also pasted to his front door.

“Pierre Heinbaugh & all supervisors have denied heat breaks in dangerous temperatures even leading to hospitalization of a worker. At McConway & Torley, workers are pushed to the limit!” the poster reads. “White Hats take notice. Workers, it is right to rebel!”

“Heat breaks” are supposed to be guaranteed to workers once the temperature inside the sweltering foundry reaches a certain point, but they have been routinely denied to workers by greedy work leads who earn bonuses for meeting production quotas. Bathroom breaks are also not allowed, leading many to urinate and defecate on themselves on the factory floor. Management also recently announced a new policy that threatened to fire workers for any lateness in spite of random shift changes.

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The McConway & Torley foundry.

Located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood, workers at McConway & Torley produce couplers, yokes, knuckles, locks, and other goods for the rail industry under extreme conditions. Through the course of the working day, a grinder (a name for workers who use the 25-pound, 9-foot tall tool) will be on their feet anywhere between 8 to 16 hours. Workers in the “melt” area have been working 12 hour shifts, and the temperatures in the plant can get as high as 120 degrees and the workers are dressed in full protective equipment to boot.

Being a nonunion shop, rank-and-file workers are less inclined to believe their poor conditions will be improved through legal means. Many of the workers are Black and live outside the city. Facing national oppression in addition to class exploitation, they are often the first to be laid off or fired. Around 133,000 jobs were lost when the majority of steel production left the Pittsburgh area in the 1980s, and this created a larger reserve army of labor desperate to work for whatever income was available at the mills and shops that remained.

Without a union, there is no pretense of partisanship between these workers and the work leads supervisors or “white hats,” servants of the boss who perform mainly managerial tasks like hiring and firing.

The stark class antagonism between worker and “white hat” is captured in an illustration which appeared in a pamphlet called “The Workers’ Report” distributed in break rooms and the bathroom. The comic strip shows a “white hat” waving off a worker who points to a thermometer displaying the extreme temperature and ends with the ambulance arriving to take the incapacitated worker away.

Copy of the “Workers’ Report” distributed at McConway & Torley

Heinbaugh has yet to be fired, but the anger of the workers has grown, heard in the frustrated complaints at a recent “Safety Meeting.” The first signs of militant resistance have appeared in the form of targeting Heinbaugh as a class enemy and agitating through “The Workers’ Report.” Whatever the next move of management or the owners will be, the call for workers to rebel has been sounded.