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Updated: 2 hours 23 min ago

USW Atomic Workers Help Energy Department Reach Cleanup Achievements

Wed, 11/25/2020 - 07:28

USW atomic workers at the cleanup sites of the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Paducah, Ky., and Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio, helped the Department of Energy (DOE) reach two milestones this fall.

DOE’s DUF6 conversion project reached a turning point this month when the Paducah site shipped the first load of depleted uranium oxide cylinders onto a specialized rail car bound for a federal waste facility in Andrews, Texas.

“We commend the highly skilled, well trained, safety conscience USW-represented DUF6 workers at Paducah for exceeding all production goals,” said Local 8-550 Vice President-at-Large Jim Key. “This operation has reduced and removed the hazardous material element out of the DUF6, leaving a more stable uranium oxide at relatively the same assay content it was when it was originally removed from the ground.” 

Key attributed this success to the knowledgeable, former gaseous diffusion operating personnel. He said they transferred their historical operational experience to the DUF6 facility. The local represents 130 workers engaged in the DUF6 project at Paducah.

DUF6 is a coproduct of the uranium enrichment process that operated at the Paducah and Piketon sites. Both sites have cylinders of DUF6 stored onsite that are waiting to be converted into a stable form for shipment. The DOE says there are about 800,000 metric tons of DUF6 at the two sites.

The Portsmouth DUF6 inventory is expected to be processed in about 18 years and Paducah’s larger inventory within 30 years.

Parallel operation

The DUF6 conversion project operates at the Piketon plant as well, and Local 1-689 represents the 130 employees who work on that project.

Local 1-689 President John Knauff said that many of the workers who started up the DUF6 facilities came out of the diffusion plant operations.

“We negotiated these opportunities for people to move into these new facilities like the DUF6,” Knauff said. “It’s their experience that made this success possible.”

Tom Lamerson, a Local 1-689 division 2 committee person, was one of four shift engineers who got the DUF6 plant up and running. Once it began operations, he joined the union in 2014 as a control room operator.

The conversion process involves separating cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride into depleted uranium oxide and hydrofluoric acid. The depleted uranium oxide is a more stable chemical form that can be reused, stored or disposed of, and the hydrofluoric acid is sold for industrial use.

Lamerson said the Piketon plant is in the planning stages of shipping its depleted uranium oxide to the Texas waste facility.

“It’s good to be able to start shipping these cylinders of oxide powder to the desert where it’s less populated. So, we’re happy to see those cylinders get out of our plant and out of our community.

“You feel you’re doing a huge service to the community, the environment and the country. We are getting rid of it safely and efficiently,” Lamerson said.

Second waste achievement

At the pump-and-treat operations at the Paducah plant, the DOE marked 25 years of successful operations in removing groundwater contaminants, largely trichloroethene (TCE). TCE is a common industrial degreaser that the plant used to clean equipment.

To date, the site has treated about 4.4 billion gallons of water—an amount equivalent to filling 6,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. As of early 2020, the pump-and-treat systems removed more than 4,100 gallons of TCE from local groundwater.

Key said that about 50-75 members work at the pump-and-treat operations.

“The USW Local 550 union leadership is extremely proud of and commends their highly-skilled, well-trained, safety-conscience, represented workforce in this successful project to remove the hazardous elements from the groundwater table,” Key said.

Union Plus Holiday Giveback campaign to Award $1,000 to 100 Extraordinary Union Members During Holiday Campaign

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 07:24

Contest caps off record year for Union Plus as hardship grants and scholarship awards top more than $2 million to union members.

Union Plus’s biggest year of giving is getting bigger. To make the holiday season brighter for union members — many of whom are on the front lines battling the coronavirus pandemic as first responders, health care workers, food workers and others — Union Plus will be giving away a total of $100,000 in $1,000 “thank you” awards to 100 deserving union members.

Union Plus is a non-profit founded by the AFL-CIO to provide additional benefits, savings and discounts to union members, as well as offer scholarships and exclusive grants during difficult times such as layoffs, furloughs and natural disasters. Since 2009, Union Plus has awarded over $14 million in grants and scholarships to union members.

"It has been a tremendously difficult year, for everyone in our country and in particular, those in our union family,” reflects Mitch Stevens, Union Plus president. “Our ‘Holiday Giveback campaign’ not only shares financial resources with extraordinary union members but also shines a light on their contribution to our communities. Union members are the backbone of our economy and many have made extraordinary sacrifices and contributions during this pandemic."

Entry to the Union Plus Holiday Giveback, is easy. Nominations can be made by visiting unionplus.org/holidaygiveback or by simply posting a video to Instagram telling us what makes their nominee extraordinary, using the hashtags #UnionPlusGiveAGrand and #Contest.

Members can nominate themselves or a friend or colleague. Nominations will be accepted until December 4, and winners will be announced by throughout December.

The end-of-year contest is an extension of the year of giving back to eligible union members by Union Plus.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 1,500 union members have applied for direct assistance from the Union Plus Hardship Assistance program.

Union Plus is proud to have surpassed its previous records by distributing more than $2,000,000 in direct assistance to members to date this year. The “Holiday Giveback Campaign” aims to inspire members to recognize themselves and others for their extraordinary work in 2020.

Local 1-689 Ratifies Contract With Mid-America Conversion Services

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 07:02

Local 1-689 members at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant cleanup site in Piketon, Ohio, ratified a new five-year agreement on Nov. 5, 2020, with Mid-America Conversion Services.

The contract covers about 130 workers at the site’s Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride (DUF6) Conversion Project, which converts depleted uranium hexafluoride for reuse or disposal. 

The unit now includes some 40 health and safety technicians (HSTs), procedure writers, planners and some administrative assistants the local organized.

The new contract goes back to 2017 and will expire in January 2022. Local 1-689 President John Knauff said numerous unfair labor practice charges and grievances resulted in nearly $850,000 in backpay and $30,000 in damages from the contractor’s unlawful implementation of benefits.

Knauff said the newly-organized members had varied wage rates for the same work prior to joining the union. With pay rate adjustments in the new contract, most are now in parity within the same job classification, he said.

The local negotiated a new PPO health care plan that covers pharmacy copays and contains small deductibles for individuals and families.

“Overall, it’s a really good contract given the times we’re in,” Knauff said. “These old, experienced workers along with a good collective bargaining agreement are what make good operations happen. We tell these contractors that those are the kind of conditions you have to have for good, safe operations.”

Bargaining for the new agreement started in 2014, and during those six years the contractor changed from BWCS to Mid-America Conversion Services.

“There are lots of reasons why bargaining went this long,” Knauff said. “I think a lot of it is the Department of Energy (DOE) not technically being in the bargaining room.”

Bargaining in the USW’s atomic industry is unlike negotiations in the private or public sectors. DOE sets the bargaining expectations for its contractors, yet it does not engage in direct bargaining with the unions. That’s done between the unions and the contractors.

Atomic Council Virtual Meeting Addresses Covid-19 Policy Issues

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 07:00

With the number of Covid-19 cases surging across the U.S., USW Vice President Roxanne Brown convened a virtual USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) meeting on Nov. 19 to help assess atomic sites’ coronavirus protocols.

While the Covid-19 policies vary contractor to contractor and state to state, the biggest issue concerned workers getting paid under different protocol scenarios. For example, at some sites, if someone is healthy, but they were exposed to a person who is sick with or tested positive for Covid-19, they are sent home to quarantine with full pay.

But, if they get sick with coronavirus, they quarantine and go on sickness and accident (S&A) pay, which is not full pay. This policy encourages some workers to not get tested for Covid-19 and to go to work even if they feel ill.

Another scenario regarding Covid-19 protocols and pay concerns the travel policy at many sites. If a worker travels to a place with a high Covid-19 positivity rate, they have to self-isolate for 14 days at home without pay or use additional personal leave time. This policy could be an incentive for workers to not be honest about where they spent their vacations and what they did.

Brown requested that every atomic local send to her their site’s Covid-19 protocols so she can work with the council’s attorney and USW policy analysts in devising best practice guidelines that might help locals in their discussions with contractors.

Brown also said that another virtual meeting with the AEWC will likely occur the week after Thanksgiving to follow up on the Covid-19 situation.

Funding ending soon

The Department of Energy (DOE) has funding for Covid-19 pay through Dec. 31, 2020. For employers with fewer than 500 employees who are covered under the Families First Act, funding for that program ends that day as well. The same time limit applies to certain types of workers, like those who are contractors and receive 1099 forms at tax time, who are eligible for unemployment pay.

Currently, the government and Department of Energy is funded through December 11, 2020. Congress will need to either pass a full budget, sometimes called an omnibus, or a continuing resolution prior to the December 11 deadline for continued funding.

With so many families and small businesses hurting because of the pandemic, the USW is urging Congress to pass a much-needed stimulus bill.

USW Health Care Workers Council convenes online to discuss coronavirus health and safety challenges, future of industry

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:16

Members of the USW Health Care Workers Council convened online last Thursday to discuss issues surrounding the coronavirus, which continues to be a challenge for health care workers.

USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who oversees the health care sector, spoke to the group about the unprecedented crisis, focusing on hope and commitment.

“We’re really dealing with uncharted waters,” said Redmond. “But we continue to represent our members every day.” 

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler also joined the conversation to talk about what the labor movement is doing to fight for front-line workers.

“It’s such a shame that we’re still talking about the lack of proper PPE for health care workers.”

Legislation such as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) was also a focus of the session. The bill was passed in the House earlier this year, with no movement expected in the Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The proposed HEROES Act includes about $1.13 trillion of emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies, as well as economic assistance to governments at the state, local, tribal, and territorial levels. There would be about $485 billion in safety net spending, including the expansion of unemployment benefits, increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, increased funding utilities payments and job training for low-income individuals, and a 25% increase in aid to disabled veterans. 

Members and staff also talked about challenges and opportunities around contract bargaining in the wake of the pandemic, as well as health industry financial trends that may play out next year and beyond.

Regardless of what comes in 2021, Redmond reinforced where the union’s commitment lies -- on workers.

“We have to be ever so vigilant that our number one priority is the health and safety of our members,” said Redmond.

Nov. 20, 2020: Local 7686 Straight Talk

Fri, 11/20/2020 - 11:25

Click here to download this update as a printable PDF.

Minor Progress Made at Negotiations Important Issues Remain

Due to the pandemic, we paused negotiations for the protection of our members. Since our last update, we have met and made some progress.

With your support, we reached agreement on several key issues.

We fought to protect quality time with our families and maintained a strong system to resolve conflict and enforce our contract. To this end, all initial overtime will be voluntary and we won strong language surrounding grievances. We extended the length of bereavement leave to 3 paid days and 2 unpaid pays and expanded the definition of family.

We continue to push for issues important to our members. Some important issues we continue to fight for are:

  • No mandatory overtime
  • 12 hour shifts receive 12 hours of holiday pay
  • Protecting bargaining unit work

During these tough times we have stepped up and we expect a contract that reflects the dedication and hard work.

As cases continue to spike, negotiations are on hold until we can meet safely.

We are one union! Stronger together!

Information on how to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Monday Caravans

Fri, 11/20/2020 - 08:24

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is organizing Moral Monday caravans at statehouses across the country to mourn the nearly quarter-million Americans who have died from COVID-19, demand a smooth and open transition of power and lift up the moral policies we need immediately and in the first days of the new administration.

The caravans will kick-off a "Week of Mourning" to mourn the politics of death that have plagued our nation and to demand a politics of life.

This Thanksgiving, a day already marked by many Indigenous peoples as a Day of Mourning, families across the country will remember and mourn the loss of loved ones who have died from COVID-19 and poverty.

Millions of poor and low-income households also face mounting bills, evictions and hunger, after months of unemployment, cuts in wages, and the government’s failure to pass a comprehensive COVID-relief package.  

Ending the suffering of our families and communities is a moral mandate to all who are tasked with governance now and in the new year. Calls for cooperation cannot compromise with injustice.

PARTICIPATE DIGITALLY

For those not participating in a caravan, join us for the online action at 2:30 p.m. ET, where we will get reports from each of the participating states, launch an online Mourning Wall for victims of COVID-19 and poverty and launch a petition demanding short and long-term action from the White House, Congress and state governments.

Click here to let them know how you plan to participate.

The Need for Action from the Senate is Critical. Contact your Senator TODAY!

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 08:46

“We’re paying with our lives. We’re paying with our health . . . Cleveland Clinic Akron General is inundated with COVID patients right now, we don’t see any kind of lull in the positive cases. They keep coming. We don’t see any outside help.” - Tim O’Daniel, president of USW Local 1014L, who just days ago lost a colleague to COVID-19.

As COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities, we are counting on the Senate to pass the next much-needed stimulus bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. The HEROES Act (H.R.6800) passed the House on May 15 and includes several of the provisions that we have been fighting for, like a temporary OSHA emergency standard and help paying for COBRA coverage for those out of work. The HEROES Act also:

  • Provides needed assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to ensure necessary public services continue;
  • Expands paid sick days, family and medical leave, and unemployment compensation;
  • Establishes a fund to award grants for employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers;
  • Provides COBRA subsidies to laid off workers;
  • Provides funding and establishes requirements for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; 
  • Eliminates cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments;
  • Extends and expands the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures; and
  • Requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans.

“They’re holding the whole country hostage,” observed Brad Greve, president of USW Local 105, which represents workers at Arconic’s Davenport Works in Iowa. The company laid off more than 100 of his members in July and they are continuing to struggle.

We Need Quick Action!

The Coronavirus Pandemic is showing no signs of stopping and our members’ jobs, and in some cases lives, are on the line.  

Click here to tell your Senator to pass the HEROS act today.

Our union has seen the impacts of COVID-19 on our industries and our members.

We need meaningful legislation to protect the health and safety of workers who continue to go to work every day to provide us with our essential services, and to provide stability for those whose jobs have not yet returned.

We need Congress to pass the HEROES Act! Please take action today!

DowDuPont North American Labor Council Addresses Pandemic’s Impact on Workers, Global Economy

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 12:32

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented the DowDuPont North American Labor Council (DNALC) from meeting in person, but it did not stop 40 council members from participating in a half-day virtual session in mid-September to discuss the disease’s impact on workers and the world economy.

“We can’t let the pandemic get in the way of our communications and global solidarity,” said John Shinn, head of the USW’s chemical sector.

He discussed how the USW Health, Safety and Environment Department established a Covid-19 protocol for its chemical and pharmaceutical employers. “The staff and local union leadership worked diligently with the employers to get protections in place for our members,” he said.

Kemal Özken, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, spoke about Covid-19’s impact on workers’ health and safety and on human life.

“We demand that Covid-19 be recognized as an occupational disease for those workers infected in workplaces,” he said.

Tom Grinter, IndustriALL director of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper and rubber industries, emphasized that council members ensure their plant managers are respecting Dow and DuPont’s commitment on local union involvement in safety management protocols.

“It’s a difficult time, but we’re standing together,” Grinter said.

Covid-19 protocols

DNALC Chair Kent Holsing, who is also president of USW Local 12075, said the Dow locals participating in the virtual meeting felt the company handled the Covid-19 pandemic well overall in terms of health and safety protocols and pay for workers who have to quarantine or stay at home because of testing positive for coronavirus or having pre-existing conditions that make getting the virus deadly.

Shinn said there were some rolling layoffs of one to three weeks in length, but most workers did not lose pay during that period.

Some of the employers paid additional hourly pay (for a period of time) or a one-time bonus, he said.

Impact on world economy

Another top concern was how Dow and Dupont would weather the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Özken described how the pandemic shrunk economic activity worldwide and caused a 40 percent decrease in direct investment. He said companies are discussing how the disease disrupted supply chains of needed products.

Shinn expressed concern that companies would see the pandemic as an opportunity to consolidate production lines and run leaner. Dow announced it would cut its worldwide workforce by 6 percent because of the pandemic, but has not said where those cuts will occur.

Despite this announcement, Grinter noted that cash-rich companies like Dow and Dupont are well positioned to survive the pandemic.

Local 7600 Trains New Assistant Grievance Reps

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 12:04

The members of Local 7600 now have a group of about 40 new union leaders following an intensive two-day training session for assistant grievance representatives.

The Southern California local, in conjunction with the USW education and strategic campaigns departments, held a combination of in-person and virtual training sessions for the group focusing on topics such as Local Union 101, steward basics, alliance orientation and building power.

“The building power program focuses on what I think are the fundamentals of what we need to do to make the local union stronger,” said EKG technician Joel Maya, a contract specialist who handles communications for the local. “It helps us communicate better with the membership through our CAT team. We’ve been getting our message out there a lot better and more efficiently.”

Local 7600 represents more than 7,500 health care and service workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in the Inland Empire and Riverside regions of Southern California. Local 7600 bargains jointly as part of an alliance of 22 local unions representing about 50,000 workers around the country.

The goal of the training program, Maya said, was to have an assistant grievance rep in every department so that the USW’s message is consistent throughout the large local. The membership includes nurses, environmental service workers, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, engineers, radiologists, medical assistants and others.

“Knowledge is power,” Maya said. “By strengthening our communications and our education, we’re going to be stronger than ever before. We’re going to need that strength as we go into bargaining in 2021, to make sure our members are united in solidarity.”

Maya, who has worked for Kaiser since 2007, credited Local 7600 President Val Robinson with making sure the training program was a success.

“Val believes in putting the next generation of leaders in place and sharing knowledge,” Maya said. “This was her vision.”

Solvay Workers Reject Company Offer

Fri, 11/06/2020 - 07:48

Members of Local 7-765-01 at Solvay’s Chicago Heights, Ill., plant voted overwhelmingly on Oct. 22, to reject the company’s “last and best” offer.

Negotiations broke-off in February for the 27 USW members because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They resumed the week of October 12.

Solvay proposed an annual wage increase over the three-year contract term. But the company is insisting that the first raise and the start of the new agreement come upon ratification of the new deal rather than applying the first raise retroactively from the Nov. 17, 2019 expiration of the previous contract. The company also refused to backdate the contract.

In addition, management’s proposal included a concessionary management rights clause the company has failed to explain, D7 Staff Representative Frank Shubert said.

The union submitted an information request asking the intent of the changes, but Solvay’s response did not provide much clarity.

Further negotiations are scheduled for Nov. 12.

Election Protection Hotlines Help Voters Navigate Issues on Election Day

Tue, 10/27/2020 - 10:10

The national, nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition works so all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners, Election Protection works year-round in all 50 states to advance and defend our right to vote.

On and before Election Day, their voter assistance hotlines connect voters with trained, legal one-on-one assistance with questions or problems that may arise, and are offered in four languages.

Please share these numbers with your community and at the polls on Election Day.

Add these numbers to your phone – and then copy-and-paste them into an email to your friends and family.

Based on calls, these hotlines identify the most common issues voters encounter (from language assistance to a misunderstanding of the rules by volunteer poll workers) and gives counties and the state a chance to come up with solutions.

Members Raise Money to Buy PPE for Essential Workers

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:15

This summer, the District 4 Next Generation committee saw a growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers in parts of the district that were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July, the committee launched a fundraising drive by selling T-shirts with the message “Of Course I’m Essential – I’m Union.” With the help of other USW members across the country, the committee raised more than $28,700.

Those proceeds were used to purchase more than 700 reusable protective gowns.

USW-represented registered nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey pose with USW staff representative Joe Arico and District 4 Next Gen Coordinator Brian Callow.

USW members Theresa Jellison and Trey Wilkins of Local 1000 in Corning, N.Y., show off their T-shirts.

USWTMC Trainer Receives National Safety and Health Award

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 09:35

USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) trainer and safety activist Michael Horton received one of two nationwide 2020 Safety and Health Outreach Awards from the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association (VPPPA).

Horton, a Local 1-689 member, is a  maintenance mechanic for Portsmouth Mission Alliance, LLC (PMA), the infrastructure support services contractor at the former U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uranium enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. He has worked at the site for more than 30 years.

PMA nominated him for the award, and USWTMC coordinator David Cassady wrote a letter of recommendation for Horton, who also writes a lot of health and safety curriculum with USWTMC’s Diane Stein.

“It’s well-deserving,” Cassady said. “Mike does a very good job. I think he is one of the best out-of-the-box thinkers. He thinks about how to do things better that may be different, but work well.”

Pictured: Michael Horton, standing against the fence, instructs clean-up workers after Hurricane Katrina damaged the Gulf Coast.

One example is his hazard mapping program. Horton created a database in 2009 when he was a full-time safety representative with Local 1-689.

Called the Hazard Tracker, it lists the hazards, a timeline for fixing them and the date they were abated. Workers learn how to analyze and categorize hazards identified during a facility inspection, and plot those hazards on a facility map. They correct minor deficiencies immediately, and enter into the work control process longer term fixes

“I believe that every one of us has a moral obligation to make our workplaces as safe as possible,” Horton said. “This begins with properly identifying hazards, reporting them and having them properly abated. Strong health and safety training is instrumental in accomplishing this. We all deserve the right to have safe working environments not only for ourselves, but also for our Brothers and Sisters as well.”

Since 2003, Horton has also served as a worker trainer for the USWTMC, and is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outreach trainer and an OSHA master trainer.

Positive results

He said he’s seen positive results of his health and safety training at the Portsmouth site.

“People understand how to request samplings, use their stop work authority and recognize hazards,” Horton said. “It helps contractors understand that you fix the hazards and not the worker. I’ve seen lots of changes about people understanding their rights, especially under 10 CFR 851 (DOE’s worker safety and health program).”

PMA also nominated Horton because of his extensive community outreach, which Horton said is some of the most fulfilling work he does.

Horton teaches general industry training at vocational-technology schools and helps adults with special needs enter the workforce.

Pictured: Michael Horton (right) instructs students at Pike County Community College.

“Not only is he an exceptional safety professional,” wrote the PMA in its nomination, “but also a tremendous inspiration to our community.”

Horton will be recognized during the VPPPA 2021 conference in Nashville.

USW Salutes Cold War Patriots on National Day of Remembrance

Tue, 10/20/2020 - 09:31

This Oct. 30 marks the 12th anniversary of the National Day of Remembrance and the 20th anniversary of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).

The U.S. Senate passed Resolution 741 designating Oct. 30 as a day to remember the sacrifices hundreds of thousands of workers, including uranium miners, millers and haulers, made by building the nation’s nuclear weapons.

This is also a day to remember current workers in the country’s nuclear weapons program and those cleaning up its nuclear and hazardous waste legacy at Department of Energy (DOE) sites.

Many atomic workers developed disabling or fatal illnesses as a result of their exposure to radiation, beryllium, hazardous chemicals and other dangerous substances at their sites. The federal government and its contractors did not tell them the hazards they faced doing their jobs.

When they became sick and applied for state workers’ compensation, these workers’ claims were often denied, and the federal government and its contractors fought against their claims.

In the late 1990s, groups of sick workers traveled to Washington, D.C., to educate Congress on the need for a federal program to compensate workers who developed serious illnesses through their exposure to radiation and other toxic substances at (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities and the uranium mining and processing industry.

Their advocacy, along with national media coverage and support of the workers’ unions, resulted in the congressional passage of EEOICPA, which President Clinton signed into law on Oct. 30, 2000.

One of the worker advocates, the late Janine Anderson, who worked at the K-25 plant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, wanted the country to honor these civilian workers. She gathered petitions from across the country, asking the Senate to designate October 30 as a National Day of Remembrance for nuclear weapons and uranium workers.

In 2009, the first National Day of Remembrance was held. Anderson didn’t live to see it happen. She died earlier that year from cancer, caused by her work at K-25.

Cold War Patriots, a membership organization founded in 2008 to recognize and provide resources to the nuclear weapons and uranium worker community, is conducting a virtual ceremony to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance. To participate, please register for the event.

Atomic Council Meets Online

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 14:33

About 26 members of the USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) met online this month to present updates on the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) grant program, clean-up funding, legislation, the status of Covid-19 protocols and any contractor or Department of Energy (DOE) issues at each site.

USW International Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown, who heads the union’s atomic sector, said that it is one of the only USW industrial sectors that has not had significant job loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, DOE’s sites in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Idaho Falls, Idaho, are all hiring workers, as well as the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin, Tenn.

“This sector is supported by a bipartisan group of congressional representatives and senators who know that the work you do at these sites is important ,” Brown said, “so our funding and work has  continued.”

Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at the fiscal year 2020 level through December. Brown said it is likely that Congress will pass another resolution to punt 2021 funding to early next year.

Funding for USWTMC’s five-year grant program that begins Jan. 1, 2021 and runs through Jan. 1, 2026, however, was decreased.

USWTMC Director Ashlee Fitch said the center had trouble meeting the training goals set in previous years, so the decrease did not come as a surprise. She said that funding will continue for the regular training classes like health and safety representative and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER).

The decrease in funding will impact special projects like the radiological control technician training LU 1-689 did in Portsmouth and community outreach training, Fitch said.

“We’ll watch our finances next year and see if the training budget has more funds to do that type of extra training,” she said.

John Paul Smith with the USW’s Legislative department discussed H.R. 7852/S.4363, the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2020. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is sponsoring the bill, which would establish a research program on chemical exposures at nuclear sites. The legislation would concern Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).

Smith said the legislative office presented Murray with requests for additional funding for the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, which oversees implementation of EEOICPA, and worker involvement in the research studies on chemical exposure.

The DOE sites are in Phase 2 of bringing people back to work. USW-represented workers have returned to the sites, except for those who are sick, Covid-positive, at high risk or quarantined because of contact with someone who tested positive or showed symptoms.

OSHA Failing to Protect COVID-19 Whistleblowers

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 13:40

While the pandemic has shed light on the need for workers to have a voice in on-the-job health and safety issues, under the Trump administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has failed to protect workers who blow the whistle on COVID-19 safety violations by their employers.

An analysis of OSHA data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that a majority of whistleblower retaliation complaints during the first five months of the pandemic were dismissed or closed without investigation. Out of 1,744 COVID-19-related retaliation complaints to OSHA through Aug. 9, only 35 incidents - 2 percent - were resolved.

Steve Sallman, Assistant Director of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, spoke about this issue on Oct. 13 during an OSHA whistleblower stakeholders meeting. You can read Sallman’s remarks by clicking here.

Read more about the NELP report here.

Your Safety, Your Workplace and Your Vote: A special USW Facebook Event

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 12:54

When we asked our members and retirees what issues mattered most in this election, you listed workers' rights and health and safety as among your top priorities. 

Join us this Friday, Oct. 23 at noon EST on our Facebook page as we discuss how the upcoming election impacts these issues and the people in Washington who make life-saving decisions about our work.   

Joining us will be our Health and Safety Deparment, rank-and-file Steelworkers, former OSHA lieutenant Dr. David Michaels, former Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board member Rick Engler, and Peg Seminario, retired Director of Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO.   To protect workers, lawmakers, unions and other stakeholders have worked for decades to institute health and safety protections for workers on the job, and, more recently, some protections against workplace violence. Learn more on our USW Voices website and don’t forget to tune into our Facebook event, Friday, Oct. 23 at noon EST.   Paid for by the United Steelworkers Political Action Fund, with voluntary contributions from union members and their families. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee. USW Political Action Fund - 60 Boulevard of the Allies - Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Biden’s Plan for Empowering Workers

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 13:09

International President Tom Conway and progressive talk show host Leslie Marshall this week discussed Joe Biden’s plan for creating jobs through growing domestic manufacturing and the high stakes for workers in the 2020 presidential election.

Manufacturing serves as the backbone of any healthy economy, Conway said, but even before the pandemic struck, the sector was in a recession and it was clear that American manufacturing workers were struggling.

Fortunately, Biden has a common-sense plan to reinvigorate domestic manufacturing that includes infrastructure investment, strong Buy American provisions for federal spending, and building out domestic supply chains.

“It’s the difference between saying ‘America first’ and putting your money where your mouth is,” Conway said.

Investing in manufacturing is important for growing strong, resilient communities, and creating a ripple effect that helps workers well beyond the manufacturing sector, Conway said.

Biden’s plan “makes sense not just because we’re a manufacturing union. It’s because we have a lot of other people in our union too: 50,000 health care workers, teachers, grad students, faculty. This is an approach that’s good for our country and good for our communities.”

In the end, Conway said, it comes down to investing in ordinary people rather than big corporations that use tax breaks to offshore jobs.

“Workers are where the future of this [country] is going to lie. So if you empower your work force…you’re going to succeed,” Conway said. “Biden gets that. He understands it. That is the difference between Scranton and Park Avenue.”

USW New Media · Biden’s Plan for Empowering Workers 10-13-20

From Union Matters: Protecting the Gulf

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 09:58

Hurricane Laura struck the Gulf Coast in August with unusually fierce 150-mph winds that caused more than two dozen deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Sally pummeled the Gulf with more flooding and destruction.

With storms growing stronger, lasting longer and even hitting more often because of climate change, the Gulf Coast urgently needs new infrastructure to save lives and safeguard critical industrial sites.

New barriers, for example, could protect the huge oil and chemical complex in the Houston-Galveston area that provides much of America’s jet fuel, refining capacity and petrochemical production.

A Rice University study warned that a 24-foot storm surge could cause storage tanks to fail, releasing nearly 90 million gallons of oil and hazardous substances into nearby neighborhoods and then Galveston Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the U.S. 

Damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 served as a warning. Floodwaters overwhelmed the power systems at Arkema Inc.’s chemical plant, causing organic peroxides to catch fire, explode and spew toxic fumes into the air. Hundreds of residents had to evacuate.

To protect the Houston-Galveston area from storm surge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a plan to build a barrier system: floodgates, with some sets being 650 feet wide, equal to a 60-story building laid on its side; a beach and dune complex; and ecosystem restoration projects along the Texas coast. But this work could take 10 to 15 years to complete.

Rice University researchers propose a Galveston Bay Park Plan that could be built more quickly. These man-made islands would function both as storm surge barriers and recreation areas.

A combination of natural and mechanized infrastructure along the Gulf Coast would support jobs, enhance the economic viability of coastal communities and help protect prime industrial areas from increasingly ferocious storms.

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