At one point in the show, there is a discussion of how work that had been done in the United States already has, or will be, transferred to Mexico. In that moment, I'm reminded of one of my first roles in the business world. I was an intern working for Goodyear in the Air Springs plant in Green, Ohio. I was green myself, and excited not only to have a job while still in college, but also to have a job working for Goodyear. Even though I grew up along the Ohio River, I knew Akron = Goodyear, and I was speechless at being given the opportunity to work for this company.
Little did I know the hornet's nest I would be walking into. The year was 1997 and NAFTA was the talk of not only our town, but all industrial and manufacturing towns across the country. I had heard a little about NAFTA, but being only 21 or so, I really wasn't interested in much more than just getting through college and getting a degree. NAFTA, I knew, was controversial. But I figured its effects were years and miles off from Akron.
I figured wrong.
I parked my car one September afternoon and headed into the building for work. On my way, I saw a particularly large flatbed truck loaded with what appeared to be a lot of the same machinery we used in the plant. I figured it was new equipment to replace a couple of recently broken units.
I figured wrong again.
Throughout the day, I learned that we were shipping most of the equipment, and thus, the work, to Mexico. NAFTA had reared its head quickly and with much vengeance in little old Green, Ohio.
Goodyear had a little jingle they would play at the end of their commercials during that time that went something like, "On the wings of Goodyear...Goodyear!" Well, the union employees in the plant took it upon themselves to procure a little PA time when the floor manager wasn't looking, and they would belt out their own little jingle: "Goin' to Mexico... Greedyear! Greedyear!"
I thought that was pretty clever and funny, but the company reps did not, and I would hear the quick shuffle of feet as the offices emptied onto the plant floor, everyone in hot pursuit of the a cappella rebel. Although this happened a handful of times, we never did find our singer. And I guess I was pretty happy about that.
The other moment that makes me think about my past is a moment where one of the characters asks, "Did you see a ghost?" And the other replies, "10,000 of them."
I got chills. You see, I moved to Akron in 1993 to go to college, but I grew up a river rat. I lived in Martins Ferry, Steubenville, and Weirton, West Virginia. Weirton was a town heavily invested in one business: Weirton Steel. It was a town much like the one represented in On the Line. Blue collar. Fun loving. Good times. And one factory to rule them all. My step-Dad worked there. My friends' Dads worked there. We were all happy...
When Weirton went ESOP in 1983, I was young, but old enough to understand and share in the joy of knowing that the *employees* now owned the plant. I had no idea that could happen! There was near euphoria for about a year after that happened, and a few years after that, I moved to Martins Ferry from Weirton and so Weirton Steel faded from my radar.
I first heard that Weirton Steel was on hard times in the year 2000 or so, but I couldn't fathom a Weirton without Weirton Steel. Since Akron was now my home, I didn't think much more of it. It would always be there, right? Why worry? Too big to fail. It employed 12,000 people in that town, and without Weirton Steel, well, there's no Weirton.
In 2010, I went to Pittsburgh to visit Kennywood. I decided to take the scenic route back to Akron and drive through Weirton. What I saw was unimaginable. The entire town...decimated. The blast furnaces of Weirton Steel, cold and smokeless. The streets and parking lots near the mill...deserted. Tears came to my eyes. Lots of history hit me all at once. I couldn't understand what I was seeing. I googled it when I got home and found that Weirton Steel had been acquired and then acquired again over the years, and was now a shell of its former self, employing maybe 800 people. From 12,000...to 800.
That spurred me to read the book you see in the picture above, and the tale is one of heartbreak. And as a CPA, its especially troubling for me to read what happened there to contribute to the downfall.
Now, the blast furnaces are scheduled for demolition (if they haven't already been demolished), and the company that defined and employed half of a city of 25,000 souls is pretty much gone. The giant has been laid to rest and Weirton Steel as I knew it is no more...
When Sean and Alanna first mentioned doing this play, I knew immediately it would touch a part of me that hadn't been considered in a long while. And if you know of Steel Mills, Coal Mines, Factories, or any job where the Union and Management just couldn't fucking work it out, On the Line will touch you as well. This is one of those shows that hits because you know it's the real deal. Maybe it happened to you. Your sons. Your husbands. Your wives. Your daughters. Your friends...
Managing Director, none too fragile