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They Needed the Jobs

Jan Wollin fulfilled a childhood dream when she landed a job in the mine. - Photo by Stephanie Hemphill

And Vesel loved the work. Her co-worker Jan Wollin did, too. After all, mining was a prestige job on the Range. Wollin had never imagined she could be a steelworker like her dad. The only women who’d done that were replacement workers during World War II. While men were away fighting, women helped mine the ore to make steel for tanks and ships and airplanes. But when the men came back, the mines sent the women home. Jan Wollin never forgot the time she met a woman who’d been a wartime worker at a mine.

“That impressed me!” she says. “I was a little girl, 1952. I always said I want to be like her.”

Wollin says when she was little, she’d say, “Oh daddy, I want to drive that truck. I just want to drive one of them big trucks!”

He told her he didn’t think that day would ever come.

By the time Wollin got hired in the mines, trucks were twice as big as they’d been when she was a child. She remembers how thrilled she was to get behind the wheel of a 120-ton truck. She raised her arms to heaven and asked her dad, “How do you like me now?”

When she got home, she called her mom. “I said, ‘Mom, I drove that big truck last night!’ She said, ‘Your dad would be so proud of you.’”

But for some other women, driving those big trucks wasn’t so much fun. Kathy Anderson drove a truck out in the pit, where there was nowhere to go to the bathroom. She was told if she wanted to work like a man, she’d have to piss like a man. So she tried to hold it for hours, sometimes all day. She got bladder and kidney infections.

She later testified that a man left notes in her truck in which “this person would explicitly state what he was going to do to me sexually.” She said foreman waved a rubber penis in her face in front of the rest of the crew. And she said he would tongue a banana flip snack cake as though performing oral sex on a woman and ask what it reminded her of.

Women later said they thought they had to take this kind of treatment. They believed union rules forbade turning a man in and getting him in trouble. Some said managers didn’t do anything when they did complain, or that supervisors were the ones doing the harassing. So they took it for years.

But then three women decided enough was enough.

Next: The Lawsuit

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