I never knew a time when I didn’t have the best insurance in the world.” Frank Hawkey, 70, held a union job at the Bethlehem steel mill in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, for 31 years, right up until the plant closed in 1996. Hawkey, like a lot of his former colleagues, recalls the camaraderie of the place, the practical jokes that would break up a shift, how all the families would get together outside work for birthdays and barbecues.
Another thing the former steelworkers all remember: how good the health coverage was.
“When I was at Bethlehem Steel, we’d get billed zero,” Hawkey said. “And that was probably one of the biggest cultural shocks in the world, when we lost our healthcare. When they went bankrupt, we lost our insurance.”
The steelworkers truly needed health insurance. The most common injuries in the plant were from collisions with moving objects, as iron ore and additives were smelted and shaped into super-hot beams that rolled through the mill, except when they jumped the track. Between 1965 and the mill’s closure, 45 people were killed at the plant, according to Frank Behum, a former steelworker and oral historian.