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Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

Minnesota Local 9460 honors health care workers with vigil

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 12:29

Members of USW Local 9460 gathered on April 28—Workers’ Memorial Day—to honor health care workers with a socially distanced vigil in downtown Duluth, Minn. The event was intended to show solidarity with health care workers as together they continue to face the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

“The pandemic is not over,” Local 9460 President Deanna Hughes told local reporters. “Every day we have hundreds of health care workers who are still on the frontlines.”

Members held and waved signs along with cards written by students from area schools showing their appreciation for those on the front lines. The event ended with a candlelight vigil for those lives lost to COVID-19.

At least 3,600 U.S. health care workers died from COVID-19 in the pandemic’s first year. Many of these cases involved concerns over adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), highlighting the need for a renewed commitment to worker health and safety.

“Obtaining fair contracts around health and safety in the workplace are more important than ever since we have seen what a pandemic has done to our health care workers, patients and our community.” said Hughes.

Local 9460 includes roughly 2,400 members in the northern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin area. 

Click here to watch a video about the vigil.

DOE Director of Energy Jobs Commits to Open Communication

Wed, 04/28/2021 - 12:28

Jennifer Kropke, director of energy jobs, told the USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) that they have an ally in her at the Department of Energy (DOE).

Kropke spoke with the AEWC online at the group’s virtual spring meeting on March 22. She said she is open to hearing ideas about protecting and expanding union jobs.

“She committed to doing everything she can to improve the lines of communication that were absent in the previous administration,” said USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown. “I am confident that she will be a definite help in getting our atomic members’ issues with the contractors and DOE site personnel more quickly before the appropriate agency officials.”

Kropke said the administration created her office to generate jobs in the energy sector, such as in the nuclear industry, particularly for those transitioning from coal and power plant jobs.

She said she wants to review how to use DOE funding opportunities to create more union jobs. To that end, she said she wants to ask every contractor about the type and number of jobs they are creating, if they are following inclusivity guidelines for hiring a diverse workforce and if they are creating more union jobs.

“There are job opportunities in environmental management, energy legacy, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing,” she said.

AEWC members told Kropke about two possibilities for job growth in the nuclear sector. AEWC President Jim Key said building a recovered nickel contamination facility would create jobs, especially since there is new technology for refinement of the metal. With a multi-billion-dollar naval reactors facility scheduled to be built at Idaho National Laboratory, the need for more power will result in additional USW jobs at that site, said AEWC Secretary Treasurer Ryan Christensen.

Other issues raised

AEWC members also discussed with Kropke labor contract transitions between DOE contractors; the labor-management conferences between the USW, contractor and DOE; the need for successorship and union recognition language in the DOE’s Request for Proposals, safety and more.

The AEWC meeting also focused on pension concerns, reports on contract negotiations, the impact of COVID-19 at the nuclear sites and training for atomic workers.

Ashlee Fitch, director of the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center, announced at the meeting that there will be a training fundamentals class the week of May 3 for lead trainers and members who conduct train-the-trainer classes.

In addition, AEWC members learned that the Worker Protection Program is resuming CT scans for atomic retirees. If a retiree has a question about the program, they can contact Fitch at afitch@uswtmc.org or David Cassady, USWTMC coordinator, at dcassady@uswtmc.org.

Pictured: Jennifer Kropke, energy.gov

Federal Legislators Introduce Bill to Help Nuclear Workers Exposed to Toxic Substances

Tue, 04/27/2021 - 12:54

Nuclear workers who are ill because of workplace exposure to toxic chemicals and other substances will find it easier to get compensation if a new bill introduced in Congress becomes law.

Named the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2021, this legislation gained the endorsement of the USW, the building trades and atomic worker advocacy groups.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA-09) re-introduced the bill on March 25, 2021. Cosponsors of the bill include Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

The USW requests that members reach out to their members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the bill.

This legislation helps cleanup workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site and other Department of Energy (DOE) environmental management sites obtain worker’s compensation when they have certain medical conditions because of exposure to toxic substances.

Sen. Murray and Rep. Smith originally introduced the Toxic Exposure Safety Act in July 2020 after the Seattle Times published an investigative article on Hanford workers who were having trouble getting workers’ compensation after exposure to toxic substances. The contractor had given them respirators that leaked.

Under a 2018 presumption law in Washington state, Hanford workers with certain diseases are presumed to have developed them because of work exposure, so they receive workers’ compensation much easier. But, Hanford workers who get sick because of exposure to toxic substances have had a more difficult time getting compensation.

The bill has three major parts:

The first part creates a Special Exposure Cohort, which is a list of covered diseases that are presumed to have been caused by exposure to toxic substances at work. The bill specifies that the list should include current information on the exposure that results in the diseases. If a worker has one of these diseases it will be presumed that the illness was caused by the worker’s exposure to toxic substances at the cleanup sites. This simplifies the worker’s ability to get compensation.

The covered illnesses include all forms of cancer, malignant mesothelioma, silicosis, asbestosis, other asbestos-related diseases, and other illnesses learned through health studies reports.

The second part of the bill creates a five-year funding program to conduct epidemiological and health studies programs to research diseases and the exposure to toxic substances at DOE facilities.

The third part directs the National Academy of Sciences to review and summarize scientific and medical evidence concerning the association between exposures to toxic substances found at DOE sites and resulting diseases. The academy will issue reports to include additional diseases if the evidence shows they should be in the cohort. It also will recommend to Congress more studies if it sees a need to resolve areas of continuing scientific uncertainty. This program will last 10 years.

“USW’s atomic workers are exposed to a number of chemical hazards in their cleanup of DOE sites, and we fight every day to keep workers safe on the job,” said USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown. “This bill will ensure they receive compensation they’ve earned should they get sick from their work.”

Museum Workers Vote to Join USW

Tue, 04/27/2021 - 11:59


Hundreds of Pittsburgh-area museum workers won a major victory in December when they voted overwhelmingly to become members of the USW.

Workers across four Carnegie Museums voted by a nearly 4-to-1 margin to become part of a 500-member USW unit called the United Museum Workers. The workers serve as scientists, educators, art handlers, front desk and administrative staff, gift shop clerks and ushers at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum.

“We are thrilled to become members of the strong and diverse labor union whose founding members helped to build the fortune of our museum’s namesake,” said Gabi DiDonna, associate registrar at the Carnegie Museum of Art. “We look forward to having a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that affect our quality of life both on and off the job.”

Founded by Steel Giant

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh system was founded in 1895 by steel giant Andrew Carnegie. The system’s workers announced their USW campaign in June with an online rally.


“Our movement began with concerns about transparency and limited career opportunities, but it now has even greater urgency as it has expanded to address furloughs, pay cuts, and safety issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Katie Pirilla, an art handler at the Carnegie Museum of Art. “Workers continued organizing throughout the pandemic and found renewed strength in our fight for a safe museum for employees and the public alike.”

The museum workers join a growing number of white-collar USW members who perform academic and other scholarly work. Two of the museums at the heart of the latest USW organizing campaign sit adjacent to the main branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where about 320 workers across 19 branches voted in August 2019 to join the USW. That group is in the process of bargaining its first contract.

Academic Center

Those institutions are in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, home to the University of Pittsburgh, where thousands of faculty members and graduate students have been engaged in simultaneous, years-long efforts to become USW members despite the university’s relentless and aggressive union-busting campaigns.

“Our group represents a diverse range of departments, duties, interests and ideas, but what all of us need is a seat at the table and a voice in the museum’s decision-making process,” said Ryan Martin, a sales associate in the Carnegie Museum of Art gift shop. “The founder of our museums, Andrew Carnegie, made his fortunes on the backs of thousands of workers who labored for low pay in extremely hazardous conditions. We intend to honor this legacy.”

Safety and Health Issues

Aiyana Kachmarek, gallery attendant at the Andy Warhol Museum, said that the COVID-19 pandemic helped to fuel the organizing effort through the summer and fall of 2020 by bringing to light on-the-job health and safety concerns that some workers may not have considered before.

“Our goal is to build the best, most welcoming and safest museum system for workers and for the people of the Pittsburgh area,” said Chloe Deardorff, program presenter at the Carnegie Science Center. “The best way to do that is through collective action. We look forward to sitting down and bargaining a first contract that helps us to reach those goals.”

DiDonna said that while she and many of her colleagues view working at a prestigious, mission-driven nonprofit organization like a museum as a labor of love, many of the workers struggle to make ends meet.

“What unites us is a dedication to preserving and presenting art, scientific collections, and ideas,” she said. “Prestige doesn’t pay the rent.”


USW Workers Keep Operations Safe at DUF6 Conversion Project

Tue, 04/27/2021 - 08:30

USW workers’ input is critical to keeping operations safe at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride (DUF6) Conversion Project at its Portsmouth, Ohio, and Paducah, Ky., sites.

DUF6 workers deal with radioactive and hazardous substances day in and day out, so they know what needs to be done to make their work safer. Therefore, it is no surprise that they play a major role in ongoing major plant modifications to improve worker safety at the DUF6 project.

Photo: Dept. of Energy -- Permanent maintenance access platforms replaced scaffolding to improve worker safety

For example, a USW member was behind the change this year from temporary, wooden scaffolding to permanent, metal access platforms, said Local 550 industrial hygiene and safety specialist Chris Neely at the Paducah DUF6 project.

“A member expressed concern that he could be in high areas that are hard to get to and are in an extremely hot environment. It would be difficult to get a person out if they passed out from the heat,” Neely said. He said the member entered a safety suggestion in the Safety First program at the site, and a safety committee reviewed it.

Brad Richards, an operator technician at the Paducah DUF6 facility, said the metal platforms are sturdier. “Instead of climbing up vertically, you can walk up. When you take your tools and parts to do lockout/tagout on the valves, you have to go up several times a day and those permanent platforms make it much safer.”

Piping replaced

Member feedback also led to the reduction of a second hazard: chemical exposure.

“One of the issues we have is with potassium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid in liquid form going through the PVC plastic piping,” Richards said. “With the PVC piping, chemicals leaked at the joints and the plastic piping got brittle and broke, even if you leaned on it. If the plastic piping was to break, it could be dangerous.”

The PVC piping is now being replaced with lined stainless steel piping. “This significantly reduces workers’ exposure to a chemical,” Neely said.

He said that at the Paducah site, USW workers handled the demolition, fabrication and installation of the steel pipe, “which is a big win for us. We had multiple discussions with the plant manager to get our members more work instead of using subcontractors. It was more cost effective for us to do the job.”

Other improvements included adding new backup systems and improving the lockout/tagout system so maintenance employees can safely work on the pipes without dangerous hydrogen fluoride being in them.

Photo: Dept. of Energy -- This closeup shows a backup scrubber with new steel pipes in Paducah’s Process Offgas System. 

Both Neely and Richards said the union and the company worked together to lobby Congress for more funding to make these safety improvements. That cooperation extends to the workplace.

“The more the plant runs, the more management understands the importance of workers’ input,” Richards said. “There is respect for the worker, and it’s a whole new safety culture we have at the DUF6 project. We all pride ourselves in thinking safety first.”

Infrastructure, Jobs Essential Pieces of Climate Action, VP Brown Tells Summit

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 09:18

When President Joe Biden convened his Leaders Summit on Climate April 22 and 23 to facilitate a conversation on the urgent problem of climate change, he was sure to include not just world leaders and industry representatives but also organized labor.

USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown was among a number of labor leaders who participated in the event spotlighting the impacts climate policy can have on workers and their communities.

“It’s so important that in any serious discussion of climate change, our national and global leaders hear from workers and their unions,” said Brown. “The people who have the most to gain or lose – workers and their families – must always have a seat at the table. That’s why I was so proud to represent USW members at this summit.”

One of the pieces that Brown put forward as especially vital for both protecting the environment and maintaining and creating jobs is robust infrastructure investment.

The USW represents workers from across a variety of industries, from steel, cement and energy to municipal water maintenance, health care professionals, and much more – all of whom would benefit from the stronger economy and more efficient workplaces an ambitious infrastructure plan would provide.

“As union members, we know how important it is that we work together to protect our communities from the impacts of climate change,” said Brown, “but we also know how important it is to enact responsible policies that prioritize good jobs. It’s clear that President Biden shares our vision for the future and is committed to ensuring that the benefits of our climate policies go to workers.”

Steve Sallman Discusses Ongoing Covid-19 Workplace Hazards on The Leslie Marshall Show

Wed, 04/21/2021 - 16:02

USW Director of Health, Safety and Environment Steve Sallman appeared on the Leslie Marshall Show this week to discuss Workers Memorial Day and the pandemic safety standards workers still need.

Workers Memorial Day occurs every year on April 28 to honor those who have suffered workplace-related deaths, injuries and illnesses.

“We are far from out of the woods, you know, just watching some of this potential for a fourth wave. And yet, we're seeing rollbacks of some of the basic protections,” said Sallman.

Sallman discussed the particular challenge health care workers faced and the more than 3,600 known deaths in the sector as a result Covid-19. Sallman said health care workers and other Steelworkers who work in emergency and correctional systems need the necessary controls to protect them in the workplace.

“If they're heroes, then let's treat them like heroes and make sure that they're set up for success and not failure,” said Sallman.

The USW has over the last year worked with many employers to negotiate sickness and accident benefits for workers. Steelworkers have also participated in efforts to establish emergency temporary standards in workplaces, work in which Sallman says he takes pride.

“We were successful in getting an emergency temporary standard in Virginia that actually became a permanent rule,” said Sallman. “Had that work not been done, I would hate to think where things would be now.”

Sallman expressed optimism about the pending federal emergency temporary standard expected to come from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“We shouldn't be saying just because we got vaccines that there's no need for an emergency temporary standard. Vaccines don’t mean you're bulletproof,” said Sallman.

“Workers have suffered long enough, and they need and deserve those protections.”

To listen to the full interview with Steve Sallman, click below:

USW New Media · 04.21.2021 Steve Sallman Discusses Ongoing Covid-19 Workplace Hazards on The Leslie Marshall Show

District 13 Staff Remembers Freddie Sanchez

Tue, 04/20/2021 - 12:00

On Friday April 16, District 13 staff attended the services for the late staff member Freddie Sanchez.

Freddie was born October 5th, 1955 and called home to his loving Savior on April 9, 2021 at the age of 65. Freddie was a hard working man full of faith and full of life. He was married to his wife for 42 years, raising their two daughters in Odessa, Texas. Freddie worked for General Tire where he was the first Union President in Odessa until they closed and was then hired on with USW where he worked as a Staff Representative for 27 years and was officially retired on April 8th, 2021.

Condolences may be sent to the family online at acreswestfuneral.com.

USW members speak up, health care employer held accountable for COVID-19 violations

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 15:13

Early last month, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) charged Healthsource Saginaw $6,500 in fines for violating COVID-19 workplace safety requirements.

The violations committed by the Saginaw, Mich., rehabilitation and recovery hospital included not keeping everyone on the worksite premises at least 6 feet from one another and not implementing the written COVID-19 preparedness and response plan's social distancing strategies in the behavioral medicine department break rooms. 

Total penalties including other workplace violations were $31,500.

This investigation was only made possible after many workers spoke up and filed complaints. One of those workers was USW Local 12075-17 Unit President Kendra Kalenak-Aldrich, who was involved in the official MIOSHA investigation.

Aldrich, who works in the facility’s behavioral health department, originally filed a complaint in March 2020 for lack of appropriate PPE, then filed two more times that year for the employer not doing fit-testing for N95 masks.

“I knew that was not okay because I worked in a hospital previously and we were fit-tested yearly for an N95,” said Aldrich.

Six complaints were included in the official investigation by MIOSHA, which began in December 2020 and closed in February 2021. On March 1, MIOSHA issued the citation.

Aldirch said Healthsource has taken swift action to remedy the issues, including posting appropriate signage in the building. She also said this investigation shows why collective bargaining agreements and a strong labor movement are so important.

“The only reason I was a part of the process was because I’m a part of the union,” she said.

Members mobilize, House passes workplace violence prevention bill

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 15:11

USW members rallied last week to make phone calls and send e-mails to their House Representatives, urging them to support the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. And it wasn’t the first time.

At the 2019 Rapid Response Conference, over 650 Steelworkers took to the streets in Washington, D.C., to send a strong message to Congress and the Department of Labor: that we want Safe Jobs Now for our health care and social service workers.

Our message was heard, and the House passed the bill shortly after. Unfortunately, like many of our priorities last session, the bill was stalled out in the Senate. 

Last Friday, April 16, the House passed the much-needed legislation (H.R. 1195) once again. Now, the bill moves onto the Senate, where it meets an uncertain fate.

Our fight does not end here, and it won’t end until the bill has passed the Senate and is signed by President Joe Biden.

Click here to learn more about the bill.

Cooper Tire Local Hosts Vaccine Clinic in Partnership with Employer at Local Union Hall

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 10:14

Local 752L in Texarkana, Arkansas held a vaccine clinic at their local union hall helping more than 300 people get vaccinated over the course of two days.

The clinic was open to all members of the local, and anyone else who works at the Cooper Tire plant where the members are employed.

"This was a joint effort with the company trying to keep everyone safe," said Local Union President Kerry Halter.

New Rule Helps Workers Hold Chemical Facilities Accountable

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 08:56

A new rule that promotes public safety became effective March 15 under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Program.

Chemical facilities that are subject to the Risk Management Program must hold a public meeting within 90 days after an incident that impacts the surrounding area causes offsite deaths, injuries, evacuations, sheltering-in-place, property damage or environmental damage.

USW members and fenceline communities can use these meetings to push facilities and companies for action to prevent future incidents and to hold them accountable.

The meeting requirement is part of the revised Risk Management Program rule that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued in 2017. The Trump administration repealed many key provisions of the rule, but left standing much of the public meeting requirement.

About 12,000 industrial and commercial facilities that use certain hazardous substances in specified amounts are subject to the Risk Management Program. These facilities include many chemical plants, oil refineries, paper mills, food processing operations, water and sewerage treatment plants and other operations. You can find out if a facility is covered here.

The Risk Management Program implements Section 112(r) of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, and helps prevent chemical accidents. It requires certain facilities to file a Risk Management Plan that identifies items like the potential effects of a chemical incident, the steps a facility is taking to avoid an incident and the emergency response procedures if an incident occurs.

How process works

The facility must provide one public notice of when and where the meeting will occur. After an RMP incident, local unions should contact their facility to determine the plans for a meeting.

At the meeting, the facility must provide certain data including the chemicals released; their amounts; on-site impacts; known off-site impacts; initiating event and contributing factors, if known, and operational or process changes that resulted from investigation of the release.

This also provides an opportunity for local unions to ask facility management questions about health and safety protocols.

Lastly, facility management must report to the EPA that a public meeting was held following a Risk Management Program reportable incident.

Tell your Representative to vote YES on H.R. 1195!

Tue, 04/13/2021 - 10:50
Time to put on the pressure! 

At the 2019 Rapid Response Conference, over 650 Steelworkers took to the streets in Washington, D.C. to send a strong message to Congress and the Department of Labor: that we want Safe Jobs Now for our health care and social service workers.

While we rallied in front of the Department of Labor, a group of our impacted health care members met with representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and delivered tens of thousands of postcards from our national action to urge passage of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.

Our members also delivered postcards to Senate offices and held conversations with over 200 House offices and made hundreds of calls to drive home our message that safety on the job is a priority for every worker. 

Our message was heard, and the House passed the bill shortly after. Unfortunately, like many of our priorities last session, the bill was stalled out in the Senate. 

Here’s the good news

The House has once again introduced a bill that will get a vote this week.

We need your help to remind them just how important passage of the bill is to our Steelworker siblings and to our family members who work in these sectors. 

Make a quick call and send an email today

It’s quick, easy, and it makes a difference! 

 

Health, Safety & Environment Leader Mike Wright to Retire

Thu, 04/08/2021 - 10:18

After 44 years fighting for the well-being of working people on and off the job, including 37 years as the leader of the USW’s health, safety & environment department, Mike Wright is planning to retire.

Wright joined the USW staff in 1977 after training as an industrial engineer at Cornell University and as an MPH industrial hygienist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“It would be impossible to find a member of the USW, or any union, who hasn’t benefitted from the wide-ranging work Mike has done over the past 44 years,” said International President Tom Conway. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that his efforts have saved countless lives. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy of union building through his lifetime of dedication keeping workers safe and healthy on the job.” 

Throughout his career, Wright challenged the status quo and championed cooperative approaches to solving workplace health problems, spearheading the formation of  union-management committees, training initiatives and other collaborative efforts that have enhanced health and safety for all working people.

Peg Seminario, former director of occupational safety and health for the AFL-CIO, has known Wright for 45 years and said that he has contributed more to advancing the safety and health of workers over that period than anyone else she has known.

“He is dedicated, determined, generous and fiercely loyal. He has been a great colleague to all in the safety and health movement, and a wonderful friend,” Seminario said. “Mike has dedicated his working life to improving the lives not only of USW members but workers around the globe.”

David LeGrande, former occupational safety and health director for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), worked closely with Wright for many years on the unions’ joint weeklong safety conferences that regularly attracted around 1,600 participants from rank-and-file workers, as well as management representatives, every 18 months for in-depth discussions and training sessions.

LeGrande credited Wright with building coalitions of labor leaders to fight together for improvements, and with helping to establish numerous Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and other state and local regulations to protect workers from asbestos, hazardous chemicals and other dangerous materials.

“Without Mike's leadership at the USW, these laws would not have been as comprehensive or, in some cases, even existed,” said LeGrande, who pointed out that Wright’s work touched millions who never belonged to a union.

“His efforts actually led to the improvement of working conditions for countless numbers of workers,” LeGrande said.

Amazing passion

Rank-and-file USW members also had high praise for Wright’s advocacy and deep knowledge, whether he was pushing for national standards for entire industries or communicating with members one on one.

Brad Greve, president of Local 105, which represents workers at Arconic’s Davenport Works, said Wright brought an impressive level of expertise to every safety issue.

“When you came to him with a problem, he had the ability to understand how it affected people day to day,” Greve said. “He could relate to people. The knowledge he had and the passion he had were amazing.”

Greve said he was among many who benefitted from health and safety conferences Mike organized over the years with the help of a world-class team that included Jim Frederick, whom President Joe Biden named to one of the top positions at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Fierce advocacy

Debbie Berkowitz, worker safety and health program director for the National Employment Law Project and former OSHA chief of staff during the Obama administration, called Wright a “fierce advocate” who fought tirelessly for tougher national workplace standards for materials like silica and beryllium, but who also took on smaller fights on behalf of individuals who were fired or faced retaliation for voicing safety concerns.

Wright made Berkowitz a better administrator, using his voice to ensure that her agency didn’t cut corners in its efforts to ensure safer workplaces, she said.

“That was the power of Mike's advocacy. He made change happen,” Berkowitz said.

Other colleagues echoed those sentiments.

Joseph Santarella, an attorney specializing in environmental enforcement, called Wright a “visionary leader” who helped make sure that the EPA enforced healthier Clean Air Act standards.

Meaningful reform

Over the years, Wright also investigated countless workplace incidents and followed them with calls for meaningful reform, the most infamous of which might have been the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak disaster in Bhopal, India.

That event, one of the world’s most deadly industrial incidents, killed more than 3,700 and injured more than 500,000. Wright’s advocacy and engagement following that event helped to prevent future chemical-related disasters around the world.

Over the years, Wright has served on numerous committees and advisory panels focusing on health, safety and environmental issues. Some of those bodies include the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Mine Health Research Advisory Committee, the National Research Council Committee on Industrial Competitiveness and Environmental Protection, the EPA Common Sense Initiative, the Iron and Steel Sector Federal Advisory Committee, the EPA’s Regulatory Negotiation Committee on a National Standard for Coke Oven Emissions and the Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee.

Wright has worked extensively with other labor, public health and educational organizations on international health, safety and environment issues, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. He has taught on the subject of safety and health in Zimbabwe, India, Brazil, Poland, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and Russia. 

In addition, he has been a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the Committee of Experts of the ILO.

Wright’s successor as the union’s HSE director will be longtime USW health, safety and environment advocate Steve Sallman, who said it was an honor to follow in Wright’s footsteps.

“We will miss Mike professionally and personally and we wish him all the best,” Sallman said.

“I’m fortunate to have served under Mike’s leadership and to have worked with so many other great activists during my time as a full-time health, safety and environment rep at USW Local 310L in Des Moines, Iowa and during my 17-years with the HSE department,” Sallman said. “I thank President Conway and the USW for their confidence to lead such an outstanding department. Together with the USW leadership, HSE staff and our members, I look forward to carrying on the great work of building our union around HSE and fighting for safer workplaces.”

Tributes from Colleagues

Mike Wright has worked closely with so many over his four-decade career, tributes poured in when colleagues past and present learned of his plans to retire. Here is a sampling of what Wright’s friends and colleagues had to say about him and his work.

“I have known Mike since 1979 and have many, many memories. Mike was part of the group that founded the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) in 1976. In 1979, I became their first paid staff person. Though Mike had left Boston to work for the USW, I quickly found that he was only a phone call away, and he always found time for that call.

“In 1988, MassCOSH grew to have a staff of five. It was time to unionize. We called Mike Wright and soon became USW members. That is how I became a Steelworker.

“Mike, who for a time served a dual role as the leader of the USW HSE Department and Education Department, was an important ally in the formation and implementation of the USW’s Women of Steel program. For several years in the 1990s, we served on the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH). One vivid memory I have of the first NACOSH meeting that I attended was that when Mike Wright spoke, everybody listened. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with Mike on numerous projects and committees, and one thing has never, ever changed over these decades - when Mike Wright speaks, everybody listens.” – Nancy Lessin, SOAR member, former senior staff, USW Tony Mazzocchi Center, former USW local president

“Mike is a titan. It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is. We are always guaranteed a wealth of information, wisdom and insights. Mike is astonishingly well versed in so many areas.” – Marsha Love, program development manager in environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago

“Mike is a giant, historic figure in the labor movement's fight for workplace safety and health. His legacy is massive.” – Bill Kojola, who spent 15 years as an industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO and  credited Wright with pioneering work on coke oven emissions, hazard communications, and ergonomic standards, as well as in numerous other areas

“Mike made the U.S. Chemical Safety Board a more effective organization. His insights about the agency’s achievements, foibles, and potential were effectively expressed with clarity and purpose, all in the interest of protecting USW members, their families, and communities. He has played a leading role among all national unions for protecting working people and for building the USW’s ongoing commitment to workplace and environmental safety and health.  I am very grateful to have benefited from his passion, wisdom, and leadership.” – Rick Engler, former member, U.S. Chemical Safety Board

“Last year, when we were both teaching at the Harvard Trade Union Program, I had a chance to see Mike at work, preparing for his workshop. Over drinks one evening, Mike was focused on his workshop taking place the next day. How much should he share examples from his experience?  What topics would be most useful?  Would they prefer break-out sessions or big discussions?  The drinks were not distracting Mike from the weight of the upcoming workshop on his shoulders. At last he made his decision about how to structure the workshop and was able to put down the pen.

“The next day, the students filed out of the HTUP class smiling and fulfilled. Another group of union activists ready to return to their union armed with tools and strategies to organize for safe, healthy working conditions.  And that was just a day in the life of Mike Wright.” – Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

It's time all of us had dignity, respect at work: PRO Act Now!

Wed, 04/07/2021 - 20:24

Everyone deserves to be heard, treated with respect and have dignity at work. Unions give this power to workers, and that's why we need to pressure the U.S. Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. We are participating in a national day of action Thursday with other working families to show there is support for what is concidered the most transformative, worker-centric piece of legislation since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The PRO Act promotes organizing and collective bargaining while at the same time establishes strong and swift penalties for companies who break the law. Outdated labor laws have hampered our fundamental right to join together and negotiate for better wages, benefits and working conditions. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act will empower America’s workers and make our economy work for working people. 

Stronger unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions and dignity for all people who work. The PRO Act is our first step to get there.

The PRO Act would also eliminate so-called right to work laws which have proven time and time again to be wrong for all working people. The PRO Act’s elimination of right to work would level a playing field for unions and increase our ability to organize and fight for our members. It would ensure that everyone who receives the wages and benefits provided in a collective bargaining agreement contributes to the cost of negotiating it. Local unions would finally be free of the financial burden of representing freeloaders; everyone would would pay their fair share!

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the PRO Act for a second time on March 9, 2021, sending the bill to the U.S. Senate. We need continued action to remind Senators that America's working people need them to pass this important legislation.

Here are two ways you can help:

  1. Call your Senators' offices! Ask them where they stand on the PRO Act and either thank them or ask them for their support. To call your Senators dial 877-607-0785, make sure to call twice.
  2. Share our social media posts to help spread the word. You can find them on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. Use the #PROAct and #PROActNow hashtags.

Solvay Kalamazoo Members Approve Contract With Numerous Gains

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 08:30

Local 220 in Kalamazoo, Mich., negotiated a three-year contract with Solvay management that members ratified unanimously on Feb. 6.

Local 220 Unit President Karl Wallace said the membership approved the contract because of a number of factors and not just the agreement itself. He cited the local coming out of a pandemic year and the company’s attitude, which showed sensitivity to the needs of the union.

“The attitude the company presented in front of us—their spirit, demeanor and professionalism—was phenomenal. I’ve been on several negotiations and this was by far the best one,” Wallace said. “The attitude wasn’t adversarial. We disagreed on some things, but worked them out for the betterment of all of us.”

Nine employees are in the bargaining unit, working in maintenance, the lab and production operations. The site makes a resin base for Boeing.

The local bargained for only three days before reaching an agreement. The deal includes wage increases of 2 percent the first year, 2.65 percent the second year and 2.75 percent the third year, along with an $800 signing bonus. The contract expires Feb. 26, 2024.

The contract contains new vacation language that allows workers to use 10 half days or five full days without giving the required 16-hour notice. Also, workers have two paid personal days. Wallace said this enables workers to take care of sick children, handle daycare issues or other personal items that crop up.

“We asked the company to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday. Without debate, the company agreed to that, and I felt that was significant as well,” Wallace said. “We did not have to give up another holiday; we got that in addition to our current holidays.”

Other contract gains included improved funeral leave, adding union business to hours worked when calculating overtime and vacation time; increasing the dollar amount of gift certificates for six months without any unexcused absences, and receiving an additional fire retardant Carhartt coat.

Other gains

D2 Staff Rep. Terry Newton said the union added to the contract the discipline and attendance policy language that was previously in the company handbook, and defined the disciplinary and attendance steps more clearly.

With only one employee having two years of service and the rest with over 25 years of seniority, the union and company created an incentive for bringing in younger workers. If a union employee gives six months’ notice for retirement, the person receives $1,000 and the new hire has at least five months to shadow the senior worker and obtain training and knowledge about the production process.

Currently, Solvay wants to hire at least one maintenance person and another production worker, Newton said.

District 6 long-term care workers launch campaign to revitalize sector

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 13:06

The USW District 6 Health Care Workers Council is launching a new campaign to take action on staffing ratios and working conditions in long-term care. The campaign, titled “Seniors Deserve Better,” will focus on direct political and community action to improve conditions both for workers and residents.

“The long-term sector has been in crisis for decades,” said District 6 Staff Representative Richard Leblanc, “and the pandemic has exposed the short-staffing and deteriorating conditions inside many facilities.”

Because of this, the council paired up with ICL (Institute for Change Leaders) last year for a series of organizing trainings offered to health care workers and activists, as well as their friends and families. They also launched a postcard drive in the wake of a deadly spring 2020, as a result of COVID-19’s titanic spread in Ontario long-term care homes.

A core group of activists have continued to meet regularly to plan this multifaceted campaign that focuses on demanding pay increases for long-term care workers and the establishment of a provincial law mandating long-term care homes to provide a minimum of four hours of care per resident, per day.

“We expect to see a lot of support for this campaign,” said Leblanc. “Everyone has seen the dire conditions, and even the operators of these facilities are frustrated with their low funding and inability to hire and retain workers.”

The campaign organizers even plan to invite legislators (supporting and non-supporting) to spend a night in a long-term care facility to experience the conditions themselves. 

“I can’t wait to get started and make real change in health care, because we certainly need it,” said District 6 Health Care Workers Council President Audra Nixon.

If you are a long-term care worker in the union’s District 6 (New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Ontario) and have a story to share, send a message to longtermcare@usw.ca. You can also request to share your story anonymously over the phone rather than write it over email. Schedule a phone interview by sending a message to longtermcare@usw.ca.

Sign up for the campaign by texting ‘longtermcare’ to 32323. Standard message and data rates may apply.

Help protect good-paying jobs and safeguard the environment; sign our petition today!

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 09:01

Enbridge Line 5 is a pipeline that delivers crude oil to the Toledo Refining Company (TRC) and the BP-Husky Toledo Refinery in Toledo, Ohio. USW members from Locals 912 and 1-346 work at those facilities.

In recent years, a segment of Line 5 in Michigan which runs through the Straits of Mackinac has come under scrutiny because of its potential to cause a major environmental disaster should it rupture. If this line permanently shut down, BP-Husky could find another way to get crude, however, TRC would be devastated.

Enbridge, the owner of the pipeline, is currently in the permitting phase for the Great Lakes Tunnel Project. This project would remove Line 5 from the water and instead place it in a cement encased tunnel deep within the bedrock under the Straits; taking the potential for an environmental disaster down to a statistical zero, and doing so at no cost to the taxpayers.

However, as the tunnel project moves forward the fate of the existing line is in jeopardy. In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed to revoke the Line 5 easement granted by the state which allows Enbridge to operate the line. In response, Enbridge has filed a counter suit.

Now the fate of the line, and the jobs of the members at Local 912 rest in the outcome of these court cases.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

TAKE ACTION

YOU can help support these siblings!

Visit www.futureontheline.org for more information about USW Local 912, the issues surrounding Line 5 and to take action to save these jobs.

There you can watch our video and sign our petition asking Governor Whitmer to work with all stakeholders, particularly union workers, and the public to find an equitable solution to protect jobs, the economy, and the environment and urge her to allow Line 5 to continue operating until the proposed replacement tunnel project is able to be reviewed, permitted, and built.

Kumho Workers Look Forward to First Contract

Mon, 04/05/2021 - 08:46


USW members at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., are preparing to negotiate their first contract with the company after a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official in January certified the workers’ organizing victory and dismissed the company’s remaining objections.

The January ruling from the board’s acting Region 10 director followed a November decision from NLRB hearing officer Brenna C. Schertz that discredited the company’s objections to the workers’ vote, determining that one company witness fabricated testimony and that Kumho presented “nonsensical” evidence and made allegations that were “wholly without merit.” 

The next step now is for members to sit down and bargain a first contract with the company after overcoming years of Kumho’s oppressive anti-union tactics. Even after the result of the workers’ vote was clear, the company continued to file objections in an effort to overturn the election.

Objections Dismissed

The NLRB Regional Director dismissed some of those objections months ago, and Schertz recommended overruling the remaining Kumho’s objections and certifying the workers’ election. The final decision now rests with the NLRB regional director.

“Since the start of the organizing campaign, Kumho has employed every underhanded tactic possible to thwart the election, break the will of its workers and silence them,” said District 9 Director Daniel Flippo, who represents Georgia and six other southern states as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“It’s time for the company to face facts,” he said. “Workers voted to unionize so they could obtain decent wages and safe working conditions. Kumho must now come to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith for the fair contract their workers earned.”


A Struggle Ahead

James Golden, a belt-cutter operator who has worked at the Kumho factory for two years, said that while he knows that the road ahead for the work force in Macon may not be easy, he hopes that the worst is behind them.

“It’s going to be a struggle,” Golden said of bargaining the first contract with the company. “We can see the finish line, but I think the process is going to be grueling. But once the company realizes that the union is here and is not going away, then we can get down to business.”

Golden said he hopes the workers’ first contract raises wages at the facility while improving workplace safety and morale.

“Hopefully we can come to an agreement and both sides can get what they want out of this and move on,” he said.

Relentless Bullying

It’s been a long, difficult road for the Kumho workers to get to this point. In 2017, they narrowly lost in their first organizing attempt after the company waged a vicious union-busting campaign that included threats against its own workers.

Kumho’s behavior during the 2017 campaign was so egregious that Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan not only ordered a new election but took the extraordinary step of ordering the company to read workers a list of its numerous labor law violations.

Kumho’s violations included illegally interrogating employees, threatening to fire union supporters, threatening plant closure, and creating an impression of surveillance.

In one particularly egregious case, Kumho tried to make an example of quality control worker Victoria Whipple, who was pregnant and working overtime to make extra money. As the election was wrapping up in September 2019, managers pulled Whipple off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay in retaliation for her support of the union. She was later reinstated.

“The workers’ solidarity in the face of extreme intimidation shows just how urgently they need the workplace protections that only a union can provide,” said Flippo. “Their victory over an abusive, greedy company should inspire other workers who want to end the mistreatment they face from their own employers.”

‘A Better Quality of Life’

Golden said that even after the workers’ election victory, there is still some hostility between labor and management at the plant. He believes that once a contract is in place, it can be a step forward for both the workers and the company.

“I hope when we get a contract, it will improve quality in terms of the workplace environment in addition to improving the quality of the products we make,” Golden said. 

Flippo said that he hopes the Kumho victory, especially in the face of long odds and persistent, well-funded opposition, provides inspiration for other workers to organize.

“In forming a union and holding Kumho to account,” he said, “these workers will help set stronger pay and workplace standards for the whole industry.”

The Kumho case is a perfect example of why American workers need stronger labor protections, including measures like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would streamline union organizing and impose more severe penalties against bad actors like Kumho, said International President Tom Conway.

“The hard-working members in Macon should be proud of this victory, but it should never have taken this long or been this hard,” said Conway. “The reason companies like Kumho think they can get away with busting unions is because so many have done so in the past. It’s time for the bullying and harassment of workers to stop. The right to organize must be protected.”

Golden said that he hopes that once the tension of Kumho’s union-busting campaign fades and a contract is in place, the workers at the facility can get back to doing what they do best – making quality tires.

“The people here like what they do, and they like the people they work with,” Golden said. “We’re not just here to work and go home. We’re here to build a better quality of life.”

April Update from SOAR President Bill Pienta

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 08:15
Underfunded Multiemployer Defined Pension Plans – Relief Finally Arrives

Many critics disapproving of the recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) are complaining it has a number of provisions in the relief package that are not COVID-19 related.

One such item included in the relief package addresses the multiemployer pensions crisis. Although the crisis began long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic consequences  of COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges facing many multiemployer plans, employers, and essential workers; therefore, making immediate financial relief crucial. I am certainly glad it was part of the ARPA.

Over 100 multiemployer defined pension plans were expected to run out of money in the next 20 years, some as early as 2025.

Due to a combination of the 2008-2009 economic recession, the deregulation and consolidation of certain heavily unionized industries, and an overall demographic shift away from unionized labor has resulted in many, if not most, multiemployer pension plans being underfunded, according to a prominent law firm.  

But thanks to the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act being passed in the ARPA, this long-overdue legislation to fix the multi-employer pension crisis has been resolved.

The Butch Lewis Act has made an immediate impact on the livelihood of over 1.5 million people, with 120,000 of them being present and former USW-represented members.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the pensions' cost savings for these multiemployer plans will be approximately $86 billion due to the investment from the Butch Lewis Act of 2021. I cannot think of a better use for funds in the American Rescue Plan than to rescue the retirement future for 120,000 USW members and their families.

A significant number of USW-represented retirees who are impacted by this legislation do not actively belong to SOAR, but that did not stop SOAR from fighting for them.

SOAR lobbied, wrote postcards, and made phone calls in support of the provisions of the Butch Lewis Act to address this important issue. It would be great if the USW retirees who benefitted from our hard work would reconsider becoming a member of SOAR. But regardless, SOAR will continue to fight for what is right for our retirees.

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