The company also defaulted on its promise of retirement health coverage for more than 90,000 former and current Bethlehem Steel employees, including Burtless. With no federal agency to guarantee those benefits, they are gone for good.
He seems reconciled to toiling at the plant until 2016.
"I'm thankful to have the job," he said recently. "But 41 years in the mill seems like a high price to pay for retirement, especially if I have to go broke."
Last spring, Paul Fredo was making so much money at Alstom that, after paying for health insurance and replenishing the family savings, he traded in his 1998 sedan for a royal blue 2004 Chrysler Concorde.
He and Donna also prepared to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in style. Each of 100 people invited to join them at the airport Sheraton in Pittsburgh was to be greeted with a party box containing Teaberry gum, a tiny Etch A Sketch and a refrigerator magnet showing the average income ($8,547), price of a loaf of bread (23 cents) and cost of a gallon of gas (35 cents) in 1969 when the couple married.
"I wanted something retro," Donna said, "but I didn't want the whole anniversary to be retro."
Several weeks before the July 3 soiree, just shy of a year after he'd started at Alstom, Fredo was told by the company that his time was up. He was replaced by a French executive, who would work on the same week-to-week basis.
The Fredos celebrated their anniversary, and Paul spent the better part of the next four months looking for a new job. He recently found a full-time one near Pittsburgh as business manager for a road and bridge builder.
He'll make roughly $120,000 a year — an excellent salary, but only three-quarters of what he made in his last regular job three years ago and about half of what he pulled in at Alstom. He reports to work tomorrow morning.
Times researcher Janet Lundblad in Los Angeles contributed to this report.