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Updated: 26 min 6 sec ago

August Update from SOAR Director Julie Stein

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 08:00
Take Your Vote Seriously. Your Life, Our Future Depends Upon It. 

If there is one thing you take seriously after reading this, please let it be my advice to visit to look up your voter registration status and find out your options for voting early or by mail. 

Now, let me tell you why. 

States and localities all across America are struggling to conduct primary elections during an unforeseen global health pandemic we’ve all come to know as COVID-19.

In an attempt to ensure voters don’t have to choose between potentially exposing themselves to a life-threatening virus and exercising their right to vote, some states sent mail ballot request forms to every voter.

Some extended early voting hours. Others, in fact many, consolidated polling locations in an attempt to minimize voter contact which inadvertently resulted in long lines with voters waiting hours to cast their ballot.

While early and mail balloting efforts have not been flawless, countless voters who waited until Election Day to cast their ballot faced extreme hardships at their polling locations. 

In states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky and Georgia, voters reported waiting in line for hours (some many as eight hours) to vote. 

The example of Jefferson County, Kentucky, will answer your obvious question as to why voters in many states forced to wait so long. Prior to Election Day, the county consolidated polling locations for some 616,000 voters into just one site. You read that correctly. One polling location for 616,000 voters.

This example is drastic, but certainly not unique. And, it is exactly why every voter needs to take serious consideration for early and mail balloting opportunities that are available to them. 

But let’s be honest. Voter access and disenfranchisement is not a new problem. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has popularized the inequities and structural barriers that have plagued our democratic process for years. 

The 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the most far-reaching and detrimental rulings in history. When written, the Act required certain states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to seek approval from the federal government for any changes they wished to make to voting procedures at the local level.

The idea was to create transparency and an opportunity to vet voting reforms prior to voters being disenfranchised. Now, the burden to prove discrimination falls on people who have already been disenfranchised rather than on the federal government. 

This change in process has created an environment where some states have been rewriting voting laws haphazardly and without reason, and voters (particularly those of color, the elderly, and young people) are paying the price. 

Under COVID-19 and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, a worst-case scenario is being realized with regard to our most vital civil right:  the right to vote. 

Don’t wait until Election Day to decide how you will cast your ballot. 

August Update from SOAR President Bill Pienta

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 07:00
Why Wouldn’t We Do the Same?

With the political season already in full-swing in some areas, I thought it would be of value to remind everyone of the stated purpose of SOAR and what we as an organization strive to do.

Our purpose, in part, is “to engage in political and legislative action.”  SOAR also exists “to advance the policies of the USW.”

In doing so, SOAR will attempt to provide factual, accurate data and science-supported information to our members to provide reasoning for the position(s) that we take on issues and candidates.

Lately, too many conversations that I have been having with folks include comments like, “It’s just common sense…” or “Everybody knows…,” or “ You don’t have to be a scientist to figure that out….”  These types of comments are usually reserved for those who have an opinion, but nothing else to back up their position about a subject matter.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to an opinion and I respect that; but, SOAR has an obligation and a responsibility to give a logical reason as to why we take the position(s) that we do.

Also, as to why we do not take a position on some issues that may be important to individuals, but not germane to the reason SOAR exists.

The USW as an organization has taken a position that any federal candidate (U.S. House, Senate or President) who wishes to be considered for endorsement must return a completed USW Federal Candidate Questionnaire which deals with issues important to our Union. 

I believe it is proper of our union not to consider any candidate that will not take the time to put in writing their position on labor issues and state whether they support our position on these issues.

If a candidate doesn’t support labor issues, worker's rights, and retirement security then they do not support the members or retirees of our union. For example: The Chamber of Commerce supports business-friendly candidates. The NRA supports candidates that support their position. Why would we as a labor organization not do the same?

Bill Pienta
SOAR President

District 3 launches new campaign website for essential care workers

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 12:53

The COVID-19 pandemic has focused the spotlight on the difficult and dangerous working conditions that health care workers face.  From feel-good television ads to the regular banging of pots and pans, health care workers are rightly being thanked. 

In Canada, the provincial and federal governments have partnered to provide pandemic bonuses to essential frontline workers. USW District 3 believes these wage increases should be permanent and apply to all workers involved in providing care. Their work does not stop being essential when the pandemic ends, and their pay increases should not end either. 

Many Steelworkers in this sector are women and/or workers of color who are fighting entrenched pay inequity and undervaluing of their work because of who they are. 

“No matter where our members work, they care about their fellow Steelworkers providing the health care our communities depend on.  Governments are learning what we’ve always known; our members are essential every day,” said Steve Hunt, District 3 Director. 

This is why the District has created the “Essential Everyday” campaign website to make these pay increases permanent and apply to all workers involved in providing care, from health care aides to support staff who keep facilities clean and operating.

Anyone in Canada who visits the website can use it to send a letter of support for the campaign to their federal Member of Parliament. If you live in District 3 the letter will also go to your provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly. 

The union is also asking that essential health care members visit the website to fill out a survey and submit personal stories about working in this industry during the pandemic. 

District 3 continues to offer targeted health and safety training to health care members, including the Right to Refuse unsafe work.  “Our first priority is safety,” added Hunt. “Essential doesn’t mean sacrificial. This campaign is a vehicle to hear from our frontline members and ensure their employers are treating them with the respect they deserve.”

Please visit the website at

Join Us for a Virtual Town Hall on Rebuilding Manufacturing in America

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 09:32

Join the United Steelworkers, the BlueGreen Alliance and other national labor, environmental, and public officials on Wednesday August 5, from noon to 1 p.m. for a virtual town hall focused on the actions we need to take now to rebuild American manufacturing and good jobs in communities across the nation. 

RSVP today!

Climate change, economic inequality and insecurity, and racial injustice are crises that American workers, their families, and communities have faced every day for far too long.

COVID-19 has only made these problems worse. We need to act now to ensure a recovery that works for working people. One part of the solution is retooling and rebuilding American manufacturing. 

Join the discussion on moving forward a national manufacturing agenda to lead the world in building the clean technology of the future, while transforming America’s industrial base to preserve and grow union jobs, revitalize communities, cut emissions, and ensure American manufacturing is the cleanest and most competitive in the world. 

Click here to secure your spot.

Speakers will include:

  • U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) 
  • United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway 
  • Natural Resources Defense Council President and CEO Gina McCarthy 
  • BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh 
  • And other voices from the frontlines of American manufacturing in the steel, paper, transportation manufacturing sectors. 


Tell the Senate We Need a Better Solution!

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 09:43

The Senate has finally released a proposal for COVID-19 relief.

The package is called the HEALS Act, yet the bill will heal nothing and only hurt working people and our families.

The relief package proposed by Senate leadership on July 27 is $2 trillion short, 73 days late, and woefully short of what is needed.

The HEALS Act:

As COVID-19 continues to threaten our lives and our livelihoods, we are counting on the Senate to pass the next much-needed stimulus bill, but it needs to have workers’ best intrests in mind.

Priorities like a temporary OSHA emergency standard and help paying for COBRA coverage for those out of work are already included in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in May and is a drastic contrast to the Senate bill.

The HEROES Act isn’t perfect. It contains a provision called the GROW Act, for example, that would make it easier for employers to stop their contributions to multiemployer pension plans, putting workers’ retirement security at risk. We are urging Congress to remove it.

However, the HEROES Act provides crucial aid to Americans fighting to pay their bills and ensures that local governments can continue providing police, fire, and other essential services.

It also gives health officials the resources they need to conduct COVID-19 testing, track community spread, and fight the infection rate, while researchers work furiously on a vaccine.

We Need Continued Action!

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

Click Here to tell your Senator to pass a better stimulus bill today!

You can also contact your Senators using our toll free number: 877-607-0785.

NOTE: Your zip code will direct you to your Senator. Tell the office who you are and where you are from and ask the Senator to pass the HEROES Act. Be sure to make a second call to speak with your other Senator.

New worker-led health councils in LA seek to reduce COVID rates, foster beleaguered economy

Mon, 07/27/2020 - 12:36

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last Tuesday to empower local workers to form employee-led “health councils” to monitor business compliance with local health regulations. 

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion recommending that the county reach out to labor and business leaders and quickly agree on effective ways to track compliance with mandates to wear facial coverings, install protective shields, and disinfect workplaces.

The measure protects participating employees from retaliation and creates a program to train workers on how to recognize and report any violations.

With health officials already struggling to enforce workplace safety measures across the nation’s most populous county, joint analysis by the Berkeley and UCLA Labor Center suggests that the measure could substantially help to limit COVID-19’s spread with only minimal cost to businesses. 

Click here to watch a slideshow about the councils from the UCLA Labor Center, or visit

Vice President Brown Testifies on Behalf of USW Members on Lessons from COVID-19 on Trade, Manufacturing and Critical Supply Chains

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 11:12

Vice President Roxanne Brown today testified on behalf of USW members before the the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means' Trade Subcommittee. The hearing was on “Trade, Manufacturing, and Critical Supply Chains: Lessons from COVID-19.” You can read her testimony below.

Click here to download a copy of her full testimony as a PDF.

Read her full testimony below:

Chairman Blumenauer, Ranking Member Buchanan, members of the subcommittee, my name is Roxanne Brown, and I am honored to serve as International Vice President At Large for the United Steelworkers union. I appreciate the opportunity to join you all again today and our union’s International President, Tom Conway, sends his regards.


The United Steelworkers is the largest industrial union in North America.  We represent workers in a vast array of industries and sectors, and we are uniquely positioned to discuss the themes of Trade, Manufacturing, and Critical Supply Chains.  From mining to metals, from auto parts to transportation, from paper to education, from health care to pharmaceuticals, our members are employed across the entire economy.  They know first-hand the impact of trade and supply chains, not only as the producers of thousands of products, but as users as well.

COVID-19 may be a catalyst for today’s conversation, but our union has long known that without a strong, globally competitive manufacturing base, our members and communities are less secure, less resilient, and are at an increased threat to future health and economic crisis.

I will focus my comments on a number of issues, but at the heart of the testimony is recognition that there is rising demand for an industrial or manufacturing plan for this country and that the time for such a plan is well overdue. This subcommittee is uniquely positioned to be a guiding star in this effort.

The Department of Commerce estimates that exports of manufactured goods directly support more than 6 million U.S. manufacturing jobs currently, and millions more indirectly. Increasing manufacturing exports in a strategic manner requires policies that will encourage reshoring and trade policies, which cannot just be about the WTO rules on prohibited subsidies and dumping, but also international conventions on workers’ rights, public health, human rights, environmental protections, intellectual property rights, and consumer safety. A holistic trade policy that recognizes the humanity of workers, no matter the country border, should be the mantra of this subcommittee, Congress, and the Executive Branch.

While there is much to debate and improve upon, it is helpful to share a few stories about how the American labor movement has stood up to protect Americans during this pandemic. Union members have made, and continue to make, difficult choices to provide the necessary supplies to help keep our medical professionals, other front-line workers, and our communities safe during this unprecedented time. Below are just a few examples of workers and manufacturers coming together to produce goods that are part of a supply chain saving lives today because of this interconnectivity:

  • More than 40 members of USW Local 721 at Braskem America participated in a “live-in” at their production facility in Neal, West Virginia, beginning in March of this year, rotating in 12-hour shifts to create homopolymers for nonwovens, which are used to make N95 face masks and medical gowns.[1] [2]
  • Local union members at Qure Medical in Rock Hill, South Carolina produce critical products such as rubber stoppers for syringes; seals for medicine bottles; and valves, tubes and other components for intravenous drug-delivery systems and catheters. The demand for these products doubled as the COVID-19 crisis increased and our members of Local 1811-01 stepped in, working safely to produce these small, but vital components.
  • At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis one USW employer, American Roots, which traditionally produced blankets and clothing items faced 75 percent layoffs. The company retooled to produce face masks and face shields, and it was USW-represented workers at the nearby Twin Rivers paper mill who helped produce the medical wrap paper needed for the PPE face masks built by American Roots.[3] This effort led to a recall of all their laid-off workers and the company hiring 75 more employees.[4]
  • These examples represent a small fraction of what an interconnected and localized manufacturing economy can do when facing an international crisis. The question for lawmakers is how we foster and build upon existing manufacturing networks to increase our resilience during times of challenge, while increasing broad economic prosperity.
  • The COVID-19 crisis and the effective collapse of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) availability is a failure that should not have happened, and as a country we all share blame in letting this deferred maintenance in manufacturing undermine our supply chain resilience, and weaken our stock piles to the point where healthcare professionals are forced to reuse equipment increasing the likelihood of transmission or higher rates of sickness. While this crisis is a visceral life and death reality of what a collapsed supply chain can mean, our country faces a larger deficit in manufacturing that could undermine our national security, lead to additional shortages of vital goods, and leave our nation exposed to a global marketplace with a strengthened Chinese economy.
  • We also have to recognize the value of manufacturing as a bread and butter issue for American workers. Manufacturing workers earn 13 percent more in hourly compensation (wages and benefits) than comparable workers in the rest of the private sector.[5]  Manufacturing firms are far more likely than non-manufacturing firms to introduce new products and new production or business processes. A 2008 Business R&D and Innovation Survey by the National Science Foundation found that 22 percent of manufacturing companies, but only 8 percent of non-manufacturing companies, introduced a new or significantly improved good or service between 2006 and 2008.[6]  Finally, improving our manufacturing footprint in a coordinated fashion will reduce our trade deficit. Since 1975, the United States has accumulated a total trade debt of $8 trillion, and the cumulative trade debt could grow to $18 trillion in the next 10 years.[7]The trade deficit matters, as it reduces national income and employment in both the short and long-term.

Research and Development

Congress needs to uplift the collective R&D, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities that sustain innovation. The American Association for the Advancement of Science highlights the historical trends on federal R&D spending, showing a consistent drop from 1.23 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) going to R&D in 1976 to less than 0.71 percent today.[8] This difference amounts to hundreds of billions less  in annual federal R&D spending. But we cannot let the drive for increased R&D lead to outsourced manufacturing. Congress needs to ensure that the gains from R&D are maximized. By increasing the tie between federal R&D investment to domestic manufacturing, we can scale up and catapult into the future of manufacturing. By encouraging domestic manufacturing from federal R&D, we will increase demand for scientists and engineers. They make up 7.8 percent of manufacturing workers, nearly 2.4 times the average science and engineering share in the rest of the economy.[9]

Strengthen Suppliers

It will be of strategic importance that we also foster a supplier ecosystem. Companies with flexible supply chains expand output capacity from 15 percent to 25 percent by optimizing operations.[10] Adopting a strategic view of supply relationships between manufacturer and supplier will require what some have described as “co-innovation” — a cooperative, tight partnership that entails a much higher level of information sharing and collaboration in order to solve design and production problems.[11] 

Improve Our Domestic Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Of growing importance is where our medicines are produced, and for good reason. The United States pays the highest prices in the world for its medicines (many of which derive from NIH-funded research) while U.S. pharmaceutical companies are often taxed at quite low, effective rates.[12] Meanwhile, we’ve been losing our pharmaceutical supply chain. Last year, the United States imported $128 billion in pharmaceuticals.

Our union has first-hand knowledge of this shift through job loss. USW local 10-729, which represents workers at Avantor Materials, saw the company purchase plants in India and Poland.

The Company slowly and incrementally moved products manufactured and or packaged at the Phillipsburg, New Jersey site overseas. The company then notified the union of its intent to use the U.S. manufacturing sites for domestic sales and the plants overseas for international customers. This business realignment directly impacted the workers at the plant as the two overseas plants conducted the production done domestically such as excipient salts production, solvents production, and acids production. The union successfully filed a Trade Adjustment Assistance petition, but it is just one small supply chain story of many where manufacturing links become so paper thin that one disruption could undermine many other manufacturers.

USW members who manufacture pharmaceuticals know too well their jobs’ dependence on foreign supply chains. According to the FDA, only 28 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing facilities are located in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chinese pharmaceutical companies supply more than 90 percent of U.S. antibiotics. Increasing our pharmaceutical manufacturing will also lead to high road jobs as the 294,250 American workers employed in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing currently have a median income of $74,890.

Deploy Trade Policy Tools and Properly Fund Agencies to Create New Markets for U.S.-made Critical Products

The USW encourages this committee to carefully review and update our export facilitation programs. We need to look at the budgets for federal agencies if we want to support trade. It will take federal resources in order to increase exports. Unfortunately, the current Administration continues to budget as if our country is in decline, and not in preparation for the future. For example, in the Department of Commerce’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget, the International Trade Administration (ITA) proposed a budget of $474,407,000 in discretionary appropriations, a decrease of $35,843,000 from the FY 2020 appropriation.[13] This is the agency that investigates our country’s trade enforcement cases, and without adequate resources manufacturing workers will continue to face dumped and subsidized goods. ITA is also the agency that has programs like the Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP), which, on average, generates $357 in exports for every $1 invested. ITA’s legacy website highlights that they can “help you navigate the maze of government offices” that are 19 federal agencies that provide some sort of export program support. ITA is an agency that needs uplifting and prioritization.

Address Industrial Overcapacity

A looming threat that will face our country and the globe as we emerge from this pandemic is existing foreign industrial overcapacity in many base commodities. Other countries led by China have recognized the power of manufacturing, and in an effort to capture market share and dominate industries, such as steel, aluminum, tires, and paper, have created international market distortions, which have required trade enforcement actions to ensure private domestic industry is not swamped by a flood of imports.

We will need to be smarter in how we address this global overcapacity. For example, the domestic steel industry has fought an economic war against China’s state-controlled steel industry for decades. A significant number of the 201 anti-dumping and countervailing duties against Chinese producers are on steel products. We are now seeing recognition by these state-owned firms that they are currently locked out of the U.S. market. The new method of China’s steel firms to capture foreign market share is to expand facilities into neighboring countries.

The South East Asian Iron and Steel institute in a presentation before the OECD steel forum in March of this year highlighted an emerging threat of “mega-mills”. These large integrated steel mills are starting up in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam with most of the investors being China-based steel companies.[14] These new investments will upset local markets and increase exports from third party countries– and if we are not careful– force American employers to spend countless resources fighting unfairly traded goods, again. Already our union has seen this increased third-party market impact melting capacity in the United States. ATI shuttered stainless steel melt capacity in Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter purchased foreign stainless slab from a Chinese-funded Indonesian facility. The company then fought for 232 tariff exclusions for these imports.

Tariffs can be a levy to hold back waters that would wash away jobs in manufacturing, but these levies would not need to be so high with better plans and policies. If we better manage trade flows, require labor and environmental standards that meet our country’s goals, and work with our allies to create multi-lateral solutions we can diffuse the rising waters of overcapacity, contain bad actors, and develop a flourishing domestic industry.

However, I can’t stress enough that if we tear down duties too soon, we will continue to lose countless manufacturing jobs and prolong a recession. This will allow other countries to export their unemployment and leave our country less secure in a future crisis. That is why our union continues to support 232 tariff relief and strong trade enforcement mechanisms. Until there is real global cooperation to contain industrial overcapacity, the U.S. should not be the first to let our citizens be sacrificed on the altar of “free trade” demagoguery.

Invest in Our Manufacturing Workforce

Our country’s manufacturers need an empowered labor force that has a voice in the workplace. This requires an investment in our workforce, and an ability to negotiate safer processes and conditions at the worksite. Empowerment means updating our labor laws to ensure that worker rights are protected, and increase negotiated contracts between workers and owners that will create mutual buy-in for domestic supply chains.

The Economic Policy Institute has highlighted that unions increase productivity through a variety of channels. They reduce turnover and, hence, firm-specific skills are retained. Moreover, the lower turnover makes it economically rational for employers to provide more training to union-represented employees, increasing employee skills and productivity further.[15]

Unions provide a significant role in training in the manufacturing workforce. United States Steel and USW have contract language which incorporates training coordinators. These training coordinators work with management to ensure workers “receive sufficient training to allow for all reasonable opportunities to progress within the workforce and maximize their skills to the greatest extent possible”.[16] For manufacturing employers who often have specialized equipment that require hands-on experience, the federal government should provide resources to foster hands-on training coordinators, which would provide new hires with the tools and experience necessary for specialized training at manufacturing facilities.

Unions also foster partnerships with community colleges and businesses to drive regionally-specific training that can help workers gain skills they need to successfully and safely build careers in manufacturing.

This requires investment and as we have testified to this committee in the past, the U.S. is sorely lacking in allocating adult worker training resources. When compared to other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the U.S. is among the worst of all 37 countries in job training programs in comparison to the size of our economy. Public spending is less than half the spending levels of Australia, Canada, and the U.K., and one sixth the level of spending compared to Germany. 


Congress should approach our nation’s manufacturers in the same way it approaches our country’s farmers— with strategically placed investment and policy discussions in regular intervals with dedicated staff and attention. Every five years, more or less, Congress debates, amends, and adjusts programs for our nation’s farmers, who represent roughly 5.4 percent of the country’s economic output.[17]  Manufacturing is double that output, but Congress has not strategically allocated its time and resources to focus on the needs of American manufacturing, and the national and economic security of our nation.

Containing overcapacity, increasing our commitment to American workers, improving effective trade enforcement, and increasing our R&D commitments when tied together with purpose and intention can increase our manufacturing footprint, lower our manufactured goods trade deficit, and create millions of family and community-sustaining union jobs. The United Steelworkers stands ready to lead the way as a willing partner, and we will do everything in our power to encourage Congress to do the same.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today.




















Union Leaders from 20 Countries Discuss COVID-19 Impact On Pulp and Paper Sector in Online Meeting

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 08:47

Over 80 pulp and paper sector union officials from 20 countries participated in a July 22 virtual meeting on “COVID-19: Impacts, Approaches and Responses.”

Opening remarks from USW Vice President Leeann Foster, chair of the IndustriALL global pulp and paper sector, highlighted the challenges the industry is facing due to COVID-19, but also the opportunities created through responses to a crisis.

This is the time, she said, to get involved and engaged with safety and health issues happening in the workplace because of COVID-19. One of the ways to do this is through IndustriALL’s “Right to Know, Right to Act, Right to Participate” global action.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan followed with remarks highlighting the impact COVID-19 continues to have on the global economy.

Pictured: Eighty officials from 20 countries meet for a global pulp & paper meeting to discuss COVID-19 crisis and its impacts on our industry.

Issues like government, business or household debt still greatly influence the global economy. Along with the COVID-19 crisis, other important worldwide issues, like gender and racial inequality, also demand attention, he said. Özkan said labor needs to embrace these concerns because they are union issues and need global recognition.

While the pandemic negatively impacts the pulp and paper industry, its effect on this sector is less compared to other industries.

Tom Grinter, chair of the IndustriALL global pulp and paper sector, detailed the impact of COVID-19 globally and within the pulp and paper sector.

Participants discussed the “Right to Know, Right to Act, Right to Participate” global action through the sharing of various posters, stickers and flyers that were distributed globally and will be again in the future. 

Union officials and affiliate leaders from countries such as Brazil, Australia, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom shared information on COVID-19’s impact, and their approaches and responses to the pandemic within their respective countries, workplaces and affiliate trade unions. 

Foster closed the meeting by reminding everyone that they rose to the challenges COVID-19 presented while still continuing to do the hard work of the union.

“We are still striking, we are still organizing, and we are fighting to keep our members safe and healthy,” she said. “Thank you to everyone involved.”

Maria Somma discusses organizing during COVID-19 on the Leslie Marshall Show

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 12:09

USW Organizing Director Maria Somma appeared on the Leslie Marshall Show this week to discuss the importance of organizing for worker power during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Somma discussed a number of examples of major employers who have routinely put essential workers – many in the food and delivery industries – at risk without providing proper protections. Meanwhile, bosses have reaped the benefits of increased consumer demand.

“What this has done is exposed the working class versus the non-working class,” said Somma. “When they force employees to work in unsafe conditions, that then affects the entire community in which we all live.”

Unions, including the USW, have seen a resurgence in interest for unionization from workers in industries across the board, and especially among white collar workers.

“COVID-19 has opened up the eyes of a lot of folks to learn about the existence of unions and their rights to organize,” said Somma. “We’re seeing a resurgence in understanding that collective bargaining is essential for workers’ protection and is the only legal tool that workers have.”

 Somma also discussed the pivot toward virtual organizing strategies in the wake of the pandemic, utilizing platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live.

“The best tool as an organizer is being able to have one-on-one conversations with workers. Every tool that was out there, we figured out how to use it to reach as many workers as we could.”

To listen to the entire interview about organizing during the coronavirus pandemic, click below:

USW New Media · 7 21 20 Pandemic Shines Light On Need For Unions Organizing In The Time Of Covid 19

USW Workers Return to Nuclear Clean-Up Site After COVID-19 Hiatus

Wed, 07/22/2020 - 09:35

The Department of Energy (DOE) is returning USW workers to the Portsmouth, Ohio, nuclear waste clean-up site as part of its Phase 2 COVID-19 remobilization.

While the DOE labeled many USW-represented workers as being “essential” to maintaining the clean-up sites in a safe and environmentally secure manner during the COVID-19 shutdown, there were also a number who were furloughed and sent home along with those who could telework.

Phase 1 involved returning DOE and contractor employees with high-priority and low-risk jobs. Phase 2 brings back workers whose jobs are best done on-site—provided there is enough personal protective equipment for those who need it.

In Phase 3, staffing will return to near-normal levels with all the anti-virus precautions continuing—masks, social distancing, hand-washing, etc.—and special accommodations can be made for vulnerable employees, according to the DOE.

The DOE said that Idaho National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico are already in Phase 2.  The Hanford Site in Washington state is still in Phase 1.

The DOE announced July 7 that some workers at the Paducah, Ky., site would return to work as well, but on Mon., July 20, the agency cancelled the return because of the surge in COVID cases in the region.

Getting Back to Work

Local 1-689 President John Knauff estimated about 750 USW-represented workers employed by the Portsmouth site’s clean-up contractor, Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth (FBP), will return the week of July 20. This group includes maintenance workers who maintain the electrical system and utilities for the site.

Road, ground and janitorial personnel who work for contractor Portsmouth Mission Alliance returned to work in Phase 1, he said. The planners and purchasing employees are also back at work.

Centrus Energy Corp.’s demonstration project for its domestic enrichment cascade at the Portsmouth site never went to reduced operations because of the pandemic, Knauff said. The company hired a few more people in addition to the 25 USW-represented workers at the site. They are getting parts to produce a centrifuge train, and will be assembling centrifuges and producing high assay-enriched uranium.

Slow Return

“I think it will be a slow process in getting people back for deactivation and decommissioning (D&D) cleanup work,” Knauff said.

Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO) Manager Robert Edwards also said it would be a slow ramp up at the Portsmouth and Paducah sites as the agency monitors COVID-19 cases in the surrounding areas.

Knauff said there is much preparation happening at the Portsmouth site before D&D work starts. The contractors are posting social distancing signs, installing plexiglass between work stations, and are stocking up on hand sanitizer and masks.

“We don’t want to be the breeding ground for this virus in southern Ohio,” he said.

The key is transitioning from the personal protective equipment (PPE) used to do the D&D work, he said, to the mask and social distancing once cleanup workers come out of the D&D area.

“It’s a team effort so you have to go in together and leave together. It’s a challenge,” he said, especially with the PPE being hot to wear and people wanting to remove it.

“We’ve tried to get better ventilation in these buildings. Stagnant air is not comfortable to work in, especially in the summer. The roofs on the buildings are like an asphalt parking lot; heat radiates down into the work areas,” Knauff said.

Plus, he said, there are the pressures to get work done quickly by managers pushing production over safety.

“I think the DOE hopes to do D&D work now, but I think their best hope is in Sept./Oct. They know this can be contingent on how the virus progresses outside the plant. As cases increase in counties around the site, that makes the dangers worse,” Knauff said.

Power Plant Workers Maintain USW Presence at Oak Ridge

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 12:45

Eight years ago, there were 139 USW members at the Oak Ridge, Tenn., K-25 site. Today, five USW-represented members remain at the Y-12 switch yard.

“By 2023, we’ll be gone they say,” said Local 9-288 President Patrick Hubbard.

He and his four USW coworkers maintain the equipment in the switch yard for the substation where power comes into the Y-12 National Security Complex facility from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Hubbard and his coworkers maintain the two transformers, the breakers and all the equipment. They test the relays inside the substation building each month to ensure they are in good working order. The substation supplies 161,000 megawatts to the Y-12 buildings.

The five men will stay at this switchyard until it goes away, Hubbard said, and a new substation is built that supplies 13,800 megawatts for the Y-12 complex.

In 1998, members of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union (now USW) could choose to stay together at K-25, the former gaseous diffusion plant, or go elsewhere at the site, Hubbard said. He said they chose to stay together as Local 288 and clean up K-25.

The Department of Energy (DOE) began deactivation work at the K-25 building in 2002, and demolition work began in 2008 and ended Dec. 19, 2013.

With K-25 torn down, most of the USW members left went with the Oak Ridge Reservation’s cleanup contractor, URS/CH2M Oak Ridge LLC (UCOR), and joined the Atomic Trades & Labor Council (ATLC), he said. ATLC is an umbrella organization of 17 local unions from 16 international unions.

Hazards of the job

“We have high voltage hazards,” Hubbard said. “You have fall hazards because we have to get on top of the transformers, and they are 15-16 feet off the ground. We don’t have to deal with radiation or hazardous chemicals, but we could have a pinch point shock hazard or a high voltage fall.”

He said he and his coworkers do not have to go thru radiation worker training because they do not deal with radioactive material.

“Everyone says we have the better jobs out here,” he said.

Hubbard said his group has gone 18 years without a health and incident or an OSHA recordable, and has only filed two grievances the past 19 years. He credits the union for its safety programs and ability to help when there are workplace issues. He also said he and his coworkers have a good working relationship with the contractor, Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC, and have good supervisors who help and work with them.

“When you’re small it makes it more family-oriented, and we want to make sure everyone goes home and no one gets hurt,” Hubbard said.

Local 9477 Fights For Members’ Right to Time Off

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:54

Like everyone, workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad, N.M., like to take a vacation, have a personal day off to handle responsibilities like parent-teacher conferences or have enough sick days to carry them through a bad spell of an infectious disease.

But not all managers see it that way and that is when Local 9477 President Rick Fuentes comes in.

If workers want to take vacation or personal time, they have to notify the company during mid-shift the day before and get their supervisor’s approval, Fuentes said. The supervisor has the power to deny or approve it, he said. If workers take the day off anyway, it becomes an unexcused absence that is tracked for discipline purposes.

Managers in some groups give their people time off if they notify them before the beginning of the shift, he said. However, there are managers who abuse their authority to deny vacation time, a personal day or sick leave so they can force their employees into work, Fuentes said.

As a result, he ends up dealing with vacation, personal time and sick leave issues at least a couple days each week, he said, talking to managers, trying to resolve these issues and filing grievances.

“I have a guy who wants to take vacation time and he was denied,” Fuentes said. “The manager didn’t even provide a calendar to his people so they could mark down when they wanted to take a vacation.”

“It’s unfortunate because morale takes a hit when managers do stuff like that,” he said.

Workers can take five sick days per calendar year without denial from the company, he said. But, if workers are extremely ill and take more than five sick days, their absences are tracked. That is when they need to request time under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Local 9477 members work above and below the surface of the salt mine. Above, they check the containers of transuranic (TRU) waste that are shipped in. This is non-defense related, low-level radioactive waste, such as clothing, tools and equipment.

Below ground, members emplace the waste in salt rooms, mine new panels and maintain the mine.

The union has helped them maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. This year, the workers received a 5 percent raise. Next year, they will get a 4 percent wage increase. During the following two years they will get raises of 3 percent each year. Workers have decent health care and a defined benefit pension. Plus, they cannot be forced to work overtime.

Pictured: Local Union 9477 President Rick Fuentes.

Local 9460 continues campaign against Essentia Health layoffs

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:43

Workers at Essentia Health, who are members of Local 9460, continue to campaign against 900 job layoffs announced by their employer in March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the United States.

Local leaders have been meeting with management for several weeks to negotiate the layoffs, which made up 6 percent of the company’s workforce. That number does not account for an additional 850 employees who were indefinitely placed on administrative leave across several locations. Essentia, unfortunately, is refusing to pay the laid-off workers’ health insurance beyond July.

Members and their allies have organized several actions against these layoffs with vast community support. There are also large billboards dotting the landscape of northeast Minnesota in support of the workers, which were erected following a caravan through downtown Duluth, Minn., on June 1. The local also hosted an informational picket on June 27 in Spooner, Wis.

“We’re going to keep holding Essentia accountable for the millions in funds they’ve received from the government and keep fighting back against the remaining layoffs to make sure our folks can get back to work,” Hughes said. “We just need to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Local 9460 includes roughly 2,400 members in the northern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin area. Their contract with Essentia Health is its largest.

AFL-CIO’s new racial justice task force to be chaired by USW leader

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:42

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced on July 10 the creation of the AFL-CIO Task Force on Racial Justice, which will be chaired by USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who also oversees the union’s health care sector. Terry Melvin, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, will serve as executive director.

Redmond and his fellow task force members are charged with implementing a series of recommendations adopted by the AFL-CIO General Board focused on taking concrete action to address America’s long history of racism and police violence against Black people.

“I am honored that President Trumka has faith in me to lead this pivotal work the labor movement is embarking on,” said Redmond. “I’ve spent my entire life fighting for racial justice in the workplace and throughout our communities. These are challenging times for our country and our labor movement. We cannot afford to be silent. I look forward to working with all the task force members.”

To read more about the task force, click here.

USW joins coalition opposing health care immunity bill

Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:39

The United Steelworkers joined fifty-four other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, in sending a letter last week to the U.S. House of Representatives expressing strong opposition to H.R. 7059, the “Coronavirus Provider Protection Act.”

According to the letter, this bill, which would broadly immunize negligent health care providers and facilities including nursing homes, “could cause extreme harm to patients and have lethal consequences.” The bill’s wide-ranging scope includes immunizing negligent health care “far beyond” COVID-19 treatment, and would be triggered even if health care decisions are driven by statements made by the President of the United States or local politicians rather than by science.

The groups also note, “concerns about medical malpractice lawsuits against front-line health care workers are unwarranted. … More than 3 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the United States and nearly 140,000 have died. Yet fewer than 40 virus-related medical malpractice or wrongful death cases have been filed in the entire country since the pandemic began, nearly all of those cases against nursing homes.”

A copy of the letter can be found here:

USW atomic leaders connect with new Carlsbad Field Office Manager

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 10:34

The Department of Energy (DOE) hired a new, permanent manager for the agency’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) to oversee contractors and operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), about 26 miles east of Carlsbad, N.M.

Reinhard Knerr leads the CBFO’s coordination of DOE’s National Transuranic (TRU) Waste Program with TRU waste-generating facilities around the U.S. These facilities send their TRU waste to WIPP for disposal.

TRU waste is low-level, non-defense related nuclear waste resulting from research and other operations. It includes clothing, tools and equipment contaminated with low levels of radiation.

Knerr works with Nuclear Waste Partnership, with which the DOE has an agreement, to oversee day-to-day WIPP operations for waste emplacement and mining at the underground nuclear waste repository.

Knerr previously was the DUF6 federal project director at DOE’s Portsmouth Paducah Project Office (PPPO). He oversaw the depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6) conversion plants at the Portsmouth and Paducah sites in Ohio and Kentucky.

Before Knerr arrived at the CBFO, USW Atomic Energy Workers Council President Jim Key connected him with Local 9477 President Rick Fuentes from WIPP. Key interacted with Knerr at the Paducah site.

Fuentes said that he and Knerr had a telephone conference and that Knerr’s administrative assistant reached out to him to schedule monthly meetings between the two men.

“I always give everybody the benefit of the doubt,” Fuentes said. “Jim said he (Knerr) is always willing to listen, and they had a good relationship while he was in Paducah. That’s a plus that he works well with the union.”

Tell the Senate to Pass the HEROES Act!

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 12:02
Contact your Senator today!

As COVID-19 continues to threaten our lives and our livelihoods, 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.

You may remember our ActionCall in May regarding a provision in the HEROES Act called the GROW Act, a composite pension plan that does nothing to protect the retirement security of millions of workers in critical and declining multiemployer pension plans. While we were sad to report that the GROW Act provision was not removed before HEROES passed in the House, we continue to advocate for its removal in the Senate as we urge our Senators to protect working people and pass the HEROES Act.

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 remove the GROW Act and pass the HEROES 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!

Sign up today for COVID-19 Awareness Training for USW Next Gen

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 06:10

At our recent International Next Gen conference, you told us you wanted more education and training opportunities for our young and new members. We heard you loud and clear and have been offering a variety of online training opportunities during this pandemic. (We can't wait to get back with you in person!) Our latest is a program offered in conjunction with the Tony Mazzocchi Center: a virtual, interactive training webinar on the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. This webinar will provide participants with information to better understand the virus, how it is transmitted and how to protect oneself. There is also a special emphasis on dealing with COVID-19 at the workplace. Note: This webinar is modified from a training session.

Click here to register for the webinar scheduled for Monday, July 27 from 1 to 2 p.m. (ET).

Letter to Local 11-418 from the Bargaining Committee - July 14, 2020

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 16:13

View as a PDF

Brothers and Sisters,

Several members have reached out to the Local 11-00418 bargaining committee over the weekend with concerns following an e-mail from 3M regarding their recent contract proposals. We wanted to clear up any confusion this message might have caused.

Over the 75 years that we have been operating as a union with 3M, we have worked well with the company, but recent changes in management, under lead bargainer Patrick J. Somers, have resulted in new – yet unsurprising – tactics at the bargaining table.

One of the many benefits of establishing our 3M Council comprised of rank-and-file members is that we are connected with the eight other USW locals who bargain with the company. Through these conversations, we have been able to spot patterns, and this recent e-mail is definitely part of the 3M’s larger strategy to delay and divide. 

For example, our union siblings at the Tonawanda plant in New York are currently working past their agreement’s expiration date, under an extension through mid-August, as they complete their negotiations.

And in Alabama, fellow USW members began their latest bargaining session in the early fall of 2019, staying the course through more than eight months of management’s attempts to wear them down. Their vigilance and discipline paid off, and they ratified their contract two months ago in May 2020, after working under an extension of their previous agreement.

It’s clear that offering extensive proposals that take significant time for our committee to sift through has become a part of the company’s game plan, and we are prepared to meet it here in Minnesota with a defense of unity and perseverance. We too can achieve a fair contract if we stick together.

The bargaining committee will be working diligently at the table over the next few weeks, and perhaps months, to ensure that our new contract reflects our essential contributions to this company. As the wheels that keep 3M moving, we deserve nothing less.

We know from experience that we can do anything when we keep our eyes on the prize and remember our solidarity is our greatest asset. It wins every time.

Part of this solidarity means making sure we all stay connected, so please make sure you sign up to receive bargaining updates by texting USW418 to the number 77820.

We will keep moving forward, one bargaining session at a time, and we will reach the finish line with the strong contract you deserve.


Stay safe, siblings.

Your Local Bargaining Committee

Health care member Audra Nixon combines compassion and knowledge to serve others

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 13:06

Audra Nixon’s desire to care for the elderly began on her paper route when she was around seven years old. Turning off the flat, rural County Road into Maxville Manor and walking into the long-term care facility to drop off the day’s newspaper, young Audra felt like she was home.

“I walked into that place and just knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Audra said.

She has now been working as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) at the manor for 33 years. To her, the best part of this work is the hands-on care with seniors and the intimate bonds that come with it. 

“You learn so much,” Audra said. “The wisdom that comes from an elderly person is astounding. It’s all really heart-warming.”

Along with her full-time work as a caregiver, Audra also serves at unit chair of Local 9211, and as an executor for the local. When she took over the position as a fairly green leader, she knew her goal was to learn as much as possible about unions and government in order to better support her members.

“I wanted to get more folks involved and make it so they’re not just paying dues,” she said. “It opened everything up a lot more.”


Audra also serves as president of the District 6 Health Care Workers Council, and is a member of the USW International Health Care Workers Council. Through these platforms, she and her fellow activists in Ontario have been able to start a vital conversation around the need to support and uplift the PSW industry.

Six years ago, Audra and others started to see a big change in health care changes, particularly with wage cuts and freezes. This is when she became involved with the district council and started working to create a safe space for fellow PSWs to come together and talk about the challenges they faced.

Now, amidst a pandemic that has severely impacted long-term care facilities, that open communication and advocacy is needed more than ever. Less than two months ago, on May 15, members of Local 9211 protested outside the manor against cuts to care hours that leave vulnerable residents at even greater risk.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” Audra said. “We’re lucky to have enough PPE and our facility isn’t one that has had an outbreak, but we’re already short-staffed because a lot of people don’t want to come to work during this pandemic.”

Even before the pandemic hit Canada, PSWs had been sounding the alarm on their many vulnerabilities for several years. Then, as the virus took hold, conditions in facilities got so bad that the military had to be deployed to five hard-hit centers to help provide medical care.

A May 14 report based on the observations of Canadian Armed Forces personnel also detailed insufficient staff training and inadequate protocols to stop the spread of the virus, poor sanitation, resident neglect, worker burnout, and more. Today, nursing homes account for 81 percent of Covid-19 deaths in the country.

“We’ve been saying we’re in crisis for years,” Audra said. “It wasn’t until residents started passing away that anyone paid attention.”

Audra and a USW staff representative also met with members of their parliamentary government just last month to talk about the many issues facing the industry. Among the demands they made at the meeting were better wages, safer resident-to-worker ratios, and improved inspections of facilities.

“We know what’s needed,” she said. “The government just needs to help us implement it.”

Audra said that being in a union is what allows her and others to use their collective voice to advocate for themselves and others.

“It’s about power and fairness. The more people we have backing us, the stronger our voice gets,” Audra said. “The USW has been very good standing up for these issues and fighting back.”

When she isn’t caring for her residents and standing up for her fellow workers, Audra enjoys spending time with her family and her dog. “My peace has always been my husband and my home,” she said.


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