She was one of the first women hired — and ended her career as the first female retiree.
Diane Miller is living the American middle-class dream.
She graduated from Simon Gratz High School in North Philadelphia in 1967 and immediately entered the workforce toiling through a series of menial jobs until 1976, when she found a career in a field typically reserved for men.
Miller was one of the first women to be hired at Allied Tube and Conduit Corp., which manufactured fence pipe, sprinkler system parts and electrical conduit pipe. She didn’t realize it at the time, but an all-important United Steelworkers (USW) membership was part of the new-hire package.
With her physical skills and union backing, Miller worked a variety of jobs at Allied Tube until she retired in 2015. She worked nearly 39 years at the manufacturing plant and retired at age 65, just months before Allied Tube shut down its Philadelphia factory.
Today, at age 68, she is living the popular retirement life in Silver Springs, Fla. a tourist destination just east of Ocala, Fla.
Along the way, she raised two daughters, sent them to college and could afford to take vacations without worrying about how to pay the next bill.
“My kids went to Disney World every year until they were six-years-old,” said Miller. “Our benefits were better than most and we were able to take vacations because of the overtime. Sometimes we worked up to 60 hours per week.”
She ended her career at Allied Tube as a crane operator, a coveted job at many manufacturing plants.
But when she began her ground-breaking job at Allied Tube in 1976, she started at the bottom rung of the ladder that leads to the coveted top-tier positions.
“I started as a pipe sorter and did some fence packing for shipping, then I worked on the large line which was what they called the Cap and Coupling Machine,” said Miller. “Then I went to work on the Deburr machine, that removes any flaws from the pipe. I did so many jobs I’ve forgotten some of them. But I eventually became a crane operator.”
Miller had found a well-paying, benefit-friendly job with a chance for advancement but it was the USW that guided her through her career.
“The men were not so welcoming to me. A lot of the men tried to talk to the women in a sexual way and a couple of them I had to put in their place.” Diane Miller
Unlike many women in the 1970s and ‘80s, Miller did not face gender discrimination when it came to wage compensation.
“I had equal pay and benefits with the men,” said Miller. “Each job has a different rate, so you worked yourself up the ladder. I was paid the same rate as the man doing the same job that I was doing.”
Miller had been searching for career employment since high school and a male friend of hers, who worked at Allied Tube, told his sister and Miller that Allied Tube was going to start hiring women that very day in 1976.
“He worked the second shift so he took us to work with him and they hired us right on the spot,” said Miller. “We got hired that same day. I was the third woman hired after another girl and my friend’s sister.
“I worked there 38 years and when I retired, I was the first female retiree at full age and full pension. I still get my full pension.”
But she had to be tough and fight for her rights as a female because initially the male workers were not all that accepting of a “woman doing a man’s job.”
“The men were not so welcoming to me,” said Miller. “A lot of the men tried to talk to the women in a sexual way and a couple of them I had to put in their place.”
In her later years when she became a crane operator, women had become reluctantly accepted by the men but Miller was still nervous.
“I had the seniority, but we had to fight that because I was the first female crane operator,” she said. “But I could keep up with the men. I ran the crane 60 hours a week a lot of times and some of the jobs had me working almost 80 hours a week. We got time and a half for a certain number of hours and then we got double-time for even more hours. It worked out. I was happy there.”
Her United Steelworkers membership certainly made it possible for Miller to climb the ladder and stay on equal footing with the male workers. She even served two years as the recording secretary for USW Local 7737 (now Local 404).
But the USW couldn’t save Allied Tube and Conduit Corp. from closing its manufacturing plant. It’s parent company, Atkore International Inc., decided to stop making sprinkler and fence pipes in Philadelphia and moved production to Atkore facilities in Phoenix and the Chicago Suburbs.
Approximately 230 people lost their jobs, 176 of whom were USW members. Allied Tube was the oldest steelworker facility in the Philadelphia area, having been organized by the USW for more than 40 years. At one time, Allied Tube was known as the fastest tube mill in the world, running tube at an astounding rate of 1,000 feet per minute.
Miller is proud of her career at Allied Tube and fortunate she retired months before the plant shut down. She received her full benefits upon her departure.
Miller spends her time these days visiting her daughters and grandchildren. Her daughter Leslie is 38 and has adopted a little boy; her daughter Mattie is 36 and has a 7-year-old daughter. Her husband, Marshall, passed away in 2012.
For all her hard work, Miller can now bask in the Florida sun the way so many retired workers from the Northeast do when their working days are over.
And Miller is proof that a long, steady career in manufacturing can lead to the good life of family and Florida.