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'Black Monday' now symbol of Valley's resilience

Published: Thu, September 20, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.


Mike Carney, former president and district director of the United Steelworkers of America, shows off the USW patch as he pauses for the national anthem at an event in Campbell on Wednesday commemorating the 35th anniversary of Black Monday.




There are no easy words to describe what happened 35 years ago when thousands of employees learned their livelihoods would disappear.

A sense of devastation is how those who lived through the ordeal recall it.

On Sept. 19, 1977, Jennings R. Lambeth, president of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., made a shocking announcement that the company would shutter its Campbell Works in Campbell and Struthers.

Between the two locations, 4,100 workers made a living and provided for themselves and their families. For many, the industry was all they knew.

That day, known in the Mahoning Valley as Black Monday, eventually cost 5,000 workers their jobs, and marked the official beginning of a death-spiral for the Valley’s steel mills.

All told, more than 40,000 would lose their jobs in the coming decade.

Today, for those who weren’t around, not yet born or too young to remember Black Monday, it’s a difficult thing to comprehend the indelible consequences of that day and its impact on a generation of hardworking steel workers.

“We expected layoffs, but there’s no words to describe it; it was devastating,” said William VanSuch, who was employed at Sheet & Tube. “We thought to ourselves, ‘How the hell could they do this?’”

VanSuch, who today serves as Campbell’s mayor, joined other public officials, mill workers and former representatives from United Steelworkers of America Local 1418 union that lived through Black Monday to share their experiences Wednesday and commemorate the anniversary at the Campbell Administration Building.

At its peak, Sheet & Tube employed more than 25,000 workers.

In the days and weeks that led up to Lambeth’s announcement, workers at the Campbell Works were on a boom, putting in double time and reaping the benefits in their paychecks, said William Sferra, who in those days was president of the 5,000-member Local 1418.

“Then, about a month before the mill closed, we were told we’d have to tighten our belts,” he said. “We were told things were going to slow down for awhile but a recovery would take place. It never happened.”

On the day Lambeth was to make his statement, he had a four-page speech ready to go. He got through one page before he was silenced by questions and bewilderment from those who had gathered to hear him.

Sheet & Tube moved its headquarters to Chicago, and it was acquired by Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.

The company changed hands one more time, but the Brier Hill facility in Youngstown began to phase out in 1979.

By August 1988, operations completely ceased, and S&T was no more.

Many lamented that an earlier owner, the Lykes Corp., essentially a steamship company, failed in adequately investing in Sheet & Tube’s facilities and work force. As early as 1969, some contend, the company was on a slippery slope.

“Christmas of 1977 I was told to remember my friends,” said Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV, who was 7 years old at the time.

“Christmas in the Mahoning Valley that year, and for many years down the road wasn’t going to be festive or joyous for a lot of people. That sticks with me during the holidays even today.”

Others at Wednesday’s event simply recalled staring with their mouths open at the television when the news was announced.

Some said they were angry, but most of all, Black Monday was marked by disbelief.

Thirty-five years later, the change that Sept. 19, 1977, brought with it is still prominent in the minds of those who lived through the crisis, but it also signified the resolve of working-class communities throughout the Valley.

“We survived, and we continue to survive because that’s what we do in the Mahoning Valley,” McNally added.


1IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Too many people in this area played the "victim" role over the closing of Sheet and Tube. Let that be a lesson to everyone, get an EDUCATION. It can NEVER be taken away and it speaks volumes to employers. The moral of the story is, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." The mills are NEVER coming back and I think that is a great thing. The air and water is clean (until fracking poisons Meander) and we still have Mill Creek Park.

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2Ypboy(64 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

I thought the mills closed in 1979, not 1977. I might be wrong, however, I know I am right when I state why the mills closed. They became non competitive. They became non competitive because of the unions. There was a time for unions. They have out lived their usefulness. They are very destructive....look at what they are doing to our schools. And, look at what the union backed democrat party is doing do our country. Wake up Youngstown!!!!!!

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3marybeth(4 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

for heavens sake get over it already. move on

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4Grog(13 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

As I understand it, the mills made a profit until near the very end. A decision had been made prior to that time to NOT make significant upgrades that were required to modernize the faciities. Eventually and predictably the expense of the antiquated operations increased to the point they could no longer compete so they closed up shop and walked away.

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5jethead11(139 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

"Steel dumping" could have been stopped by a stroke of a pen, but Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, decided not to do that. Meanwhile the unions would not give an inch. When the owners wanted to modernize the plants, the unions refused to allow it "if one worker is laid off". Their mantra back then was "Not One Lost Job". Therefore the modernization would not have saved the mills any money. Well, the union brainiacs lost everyone's job and destroyed a city and a region. This day should remind everyone of the consequences of union greed and the lack of concern Democrats really have for the working class. Yet this town still votes Democrat and supports labor blindly. Lesson not learned.

Now I'd like to hear all of the comments from you union supporters saying that anything I just wrote is not 100% true.

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6redeye1(5669 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Island Mike. Then why is everyone in this valley putting all their eggs in one basket with GM. As you stated "you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket." In case you don;t know its because that's a UNION workplace. Everyone feels safe, the same way as the steel workers did in the 70"s. And look at what happen to them and this area. Its time this area starts to think of other industries and fast. Because it can and will happen at GM just like it did back then. Then what!

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7choicelady(15 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

The mills were purchased TO close them. The Prohibition-era law permitting accelerated depreciation of liquor related companies has now become the way to gut otherwise profitable firms. Lykes bought Sheet and Tube to close it, write it down, and get the cash to go into the electronics business. It's why so many mills that WERE profitable were closed. Bethlehem did the same in Buffalo and got almost ONE BILLION DOLLARS in YOUR tax dollars to shut down. It is not true American industry was unprofitable or noncompetitive - the tax laws were jiggled so they underwrote destruction over production. To hell with workers and communities - just fatten the bottom line with unproductive tax dollars from everyone else. Y'town and all the northeast and midwest was cannibalized for that quick and easy money - and each and every one of us paid the price.

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8walter_sobchak(2722 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

I remember in the '60s my grandfather, a 44 year laborer for Republic, telling me constantly to go to college, get an education and be the boss. He told me if I ever set foot in a mill, he would kill me. Wisdom from a man with only an 8th grade education. Later, when Black Monday hit, he told me he had seen the handwriting on the wall for many years. The mills were being held together with bailng wire and duct tape. No modernization was happening and all the profits were being pulled out of Y-town.

There is more than one reason. Certainly, foreign competition with newer mills was one factor along with Korean and Japanese steel being dumped in the US that no leader stopped. Unions also were partly to blame. Workers were well compensated but the work rules for the companies were a killer. There were way too many job classifications, I believe somewhere around 44, with workers saying "that's not my job!". ANother cause that hastened the collapse was the end of the Vietnam conflict and the reduced need for steel in the war machine. Easy profits for the company wiped out. Company leaders were duped by the easy profits of the 50's and 60's when the US was the only free country that had the capacity to rebuild the world after WWII. Very little money was reinvested into the process and they were run over.

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9Silence_Dogood(1677 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Walter lets not forget the newly created EPA and all their fine regulations that were going to have to be applied to all operating Steel Mills.It would have cost more to install scrubber equipment then what it cost to build these Mills.

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10jojuggie(1723 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

When the steel unions sucked about everything they possibly could from the steel companies, in their various contracts , the unions came up with the idea of a 3 month vacation every 5 yrs, with pay, for all employees with a certain amount of seniority.

Now, you tell me, how can companies exist with providing such stupid benefits.

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11iBuck(231 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Scrubbers had been installed in power plants in Ohio in the late 1960s. Not sure of the costs, though. By 1977, the OPEC cartel had formed (after US firms found and developed Middle East oil fields from 1908 through 1964, supplying the engineers, capital equipment, and labor) and the governments there were trying to reduce supply to drive up prices and the governments' cut. Some US firms had been ordered by the US government to convert their equipment from using coal to oil, but had started using natural gas for more expensive peak usage, when the embargo hit.

"get an EDUCATION. It can NEVER be taken away and it speaks volumes to employers."

In the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, and today, there have been propaganda campaigns to try to get more Americans to get more education, and they've worked. Higher percentages than ever before are attending colleges and universities; more than ever are earning degrees... and more people who went to universities are un-employed or under-employed (doing things they could have done without that university education). Most of the new jobs being created over the last 2 decades have not really required anything learned at a university.

We now have about 1.8 million science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM) workers unemployed. We've got people who were research biophysicists who are unemployed. We've got Mensa members with multiple graduate degrees in science and law who are unemployed.

"Education" in not a panacea.

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12Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

I do not have a dog in this fight but why is it that the Right wing /GOP types always blame the workers /union. . When the owners and the business they run Fail.
Of all my businesses I had and have did I ever blame my workers if we did not make money.
It was my fault and the people I put in charge . And yes some were union workers . .

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13IslandMike(764 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

The Yugo went belly up, I guess you right wing idiots want to blame that on UNION workers.

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14Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Right Wing idiots love blaming the unions
Guess we will never see you on FOX
with kind of wrong thinking , you need to get your mind straight

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15DSquared(1788 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

The 1%. The Carnegies, Kennedys, Roosevelts, Mellons. Just a few of the huge Liberal Democrats who bled the working man dry.

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16Iowagirl(1 comment)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

You people forget who built the Valley. The men who walked across that bridge provided for their families, sometimes working six days a week.
The workers were sold out when the company failed to modernize.
Unions brought you the 40 hour work week and the minimum wage and safe workplaces. Stop bashing the heart of the Mahoning Valley.

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17JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

There have been many good points made in the 17 comments posted to this time. One could go through and pick a lot of the reasons for the mill closures. For example:

1) They became non competitive
2) NOT make significant upgrades
3) foreign competition with newer mills
4) foreign steel dumping
5) newly created EPA and all their regulations
6) the consequences of union greed

My additional thought is that Youngstown is geographically challenged for steel making. Originally when supplies of raw materials were available locally it was an ideal location. When those supplies were exhausted everything had to be brought in by rail, there is no viable water transportation available. This was an added cost that many competitors did not have.

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18sweetiepie(15 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Bottom line here whether you're a democrat or republican is EDUCATION!

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19Aware(255 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Mills closed all over the country, not just here. I'm not blaming anyone but the book 'Steelworker Alley' paints a picture of abuse - on both sides. But quite a few stories abound re: sleeping, cheating and yes...the 'it's not my job' mentality. Incidentally, the mills closed a long time ago. Other areas rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt other industries. To wallow in the past solves nothing. Those mills are not returning.

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20georgejeanie(1536 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

You have to be wiling to work to get an education. Keep your nose to the grindstone. Why do that when the government trough is right there waiting for you as soon as you as you come out of the womb?

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21JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

@ georgejeanie :

> > Why do that when the government trough is right there waiting for you < <

Obama wants to keep that trough full at the expense of those who are hard working and successful.

This can be corrected in November.

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22FormerRes(39 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Just started my senior year in high school when Black Monday was announced. The end of a way of life. Stuck around the Valley until mid-1980. Long enough to witness the beginning of the Mini-DEPRESSION with 22% unemployment. Sold my old car, bought a train ticket out West and after 8 years and a lot of work, put myself through college and grad school. Came back to see the FALL leaves in '85 and it was the first time I ever saw clearly across the Mahoning Valley. I almost wrecked my car staring across the valley when I crested the hill on 680 by the Mill Creek Park sign. Beautiful fall colors which had before been hidden by a sparkly brown haze. I visit when I can, or sadly when I need to.

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23cambridge(4146 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

joefromhubbard....About your list, I copied and pasted it so you know what I'm referencing.

1) They became non competitive
2) NOT make significant upgrades
3) foreign competition with newer mills
4) foreign steel dumping
5) newly created EPA and all their regulations
6) the consequences of union greed

Of the six things noted on your list five of them involve people or countries that made money off of the industry. The workers who benefited the least of the five are the only ones you called greedy. I was in the steel workers union before I left the area and knew countless other steel workers and none of them were rich. Middle class at best and they are the ones you point out as greedy.

I'd like to add a few comments to your list.

1) They became non competitive (a lack of facility upgrades due to corporate greed.)
2) NOT make significant upgrades (a lack of facility upgrades due to corporate greed.)
3) foreign competition with newer mills (a lack of facility upgrades due to corporate greed.)
4) foreign steel dumping (foreign countries dumping steel at a loss because the industry is government subsidized and due to their greed to corner the market.)
5) newly created EPA and all their regulations
6) the consequences of union greed

I don't suppose any of that ever occurred to you. The only greed you see in the situation is by the people that made the very least, fractions of a penny in comparison to the others in the industry.... where you see no greed.

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24JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

@ cambridge:

The list of 6 items is comprised of points made by others on this page, not my original statements. However, I agree with all of them.

You have no comment on MY statement about the geographical challenge faced by Youngstown.

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25JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago


You forgot to mention the main ingredient in steel making, iron ore, which is not readily available in this region.

V&M does not make basic iron which is further refined to make steel. Their required materials come from reprocessed steel.

Their choice of Youngstown was determined, in part, by proximity to the end point of use of their main product. That is drill pipe used in the acquisition of shale gas and oil which is beneath our feet.

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26JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago


You're right, ore was barged into Great Lakes ports then shipped by rail to the Youngstown region, an expensive operation.

The V&M "mill" is similar to the highly successful Nucor mini-mills which do not require the extensive raw material resources as the old traditional mills of Youngstown past.

I feel very fortunate to have worked at Youngstown Sheet & Tube in the 1960's when it was still producing. I'm very sad about what happened to the steel industry here but things do change, even if we don't like it at times.

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27ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

The steel plants in the Mahoning Valley were antiquated, and one of the examples of this was their reliance on older obsolete technologies for making steel. While many other plants had converted to basic oxygen steelmaking furnaces, many Youngstown plants retained open hearths. While other plants modernized their rolling mills, at least seven rolling mills in Youngstown were still driven by steam engines. In 1996 a group of us saved one of those giant steam engines and moved it to a site on Hubbard Road where we are building a museum of Youngstown's steel industry. This is a grassroots effort and is not funded by government in any way, but rather by people who want to see our industrial heritage preserved. We are holding an open house this Saturday from 10 to 2. Tod Engine, 2261 Hubbard Road, across the street from Youngstown Oxygen.

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28JoeFromHubbard(1810 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

@ ytownsteelman:

Rick and his crew have put forth an heroic effort in moving that Tod engine to its new home.

I may have seen that engine in operation back around 1965 when I made a wrong turn walking down an ally in the Brier Hill Works. When I opened this door and stepped into the large room behind it, it was like walking into a "living" museum. There were huge flywheels and fly-ball governors spinning before my eyes. Shiny brass valves, fittings and pipes also grabbed my attention. Unforgettable !

And yes, the open hearths. Looking through the hole in the door into a boiling cauldron of iron being converted into steel. And I mean bubbling and boiling like grandma's teapot.

What an experience!

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29Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

1969? The mills were outdated after World War Two and were not modernized because of the intentions of the owners to take them over seas. That is exactly what happened. Simply put it is globalization which is why the first two world wars were fought. The only thing it had to do with unions was finding cheap labor markets with cheap quality products. The result was a lower standard of living through the so called redistribution of wealth. Presently it is called social justice that is all being more "competitive" means in this case.

Don't worry or feel bad the owners made money and would have continued to make money with unions in the good old old USA. You couldn't imagine the profits the two world wars alone brought them.

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