Episode 4 - Hellish Jobs

Steel worker in at an open hearth

What does vocation mean to someone in a hellish job? The Ministers in-Industry-Program put seminarians to work in steel mills to teach them what the industrial system does to people. If you’ve ever had a hellish job, and even if you haven’t, you’ll get a new perspective on it in this episode of the Vocation Season.

Richard participated in the first seminar in 1950 and went to work at a steel mill in Braddock, Pennsylvania. In 1959, the Reverend Bryce Little worked on the South Side of Chicago to clean the steel girders destined for the Kennedy Expressway infrastructure project. The people they met on the job opened their eyes to another meaning of the word vocation.

Richard and Bryce each took the lessons they had learned from the Presbyterian Institute of Industrial Relations (PIIR) program with them when they became fraternal workers in Southeast Asia—Richard in the Philippines and Bryce in Thailand (where trade unions were illegal).

Richard becomes the last dean of PIIR when he returns from the Philippines. He provides his children Scott and Margaret with summer jobs that teach them what it’s like to work in a factory.

Margaret asks Richard to apply what he learned about the meaning of vocation for people in the industrial system to the circumstances of workers today in the United States. How do we organize workers in a service economy increasingly made up of jobs that offer no job protection or security, where workers are often invisible and isolated from one another?


Poethig, Richard P. “Marshal Logan Scott and the Presbyterian Institute of Industrial Relations.” The Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-), vol. 83, no. 1, 2005, pp. 5–22. Or read the article on richardpoethig.com.

Pew Research Center, “Majorities of adults see decline see decline of union membership as bad for the U.S. and working people,” (April 15, 2021)

National Domestic Workers Alliance website

History of Domestic Work and Worker Organizing: An Interactive Timeline

“Out of the Shadows,” by Lauren Hilgers, The New York Times Magazine (February 21, 2019)

Music Credits

“Last Light” by Xylo-Ziko https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Xylo-Ziko/alternate

Photo Credit: Based on a photograph of the Braddock works from the William J. Gaughan Collection at the University of Pittsburgh


Mailing List Signup

If you’d like to be notified by email when new episodes are posted, please sign up here.