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Local 12-652 Members Overwhelmingly Approve Strong Contract at Idaho National Laboratory

Wed, 05/25/2022 - 07:35

Local 12-652 members who work for Idaho National Laboratory’s cleanup contractor, Idaho Environmental Coalition (IEC), overwhelmingly ratified on May 19 a new five-year agreement with enhanced wage increases, additional pay for various work activities and beneficial contract language.

“I think this is probably the best economic offer I’ve seen in the 33 years I have been employed at the DOE Idaho site,” said Local 12-652 Vice President and unit chair Henry Littlefield.

The contract covers roughly 580 USW-represented workers who are in 22 job classifications ranging from carpenters, mechanics, and electricians to operators, custodians, tool crib attendants and radiation control technicians.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Pay raises range from 15.75 to 19.35 percent over the contract term, depending on job classification.

Littleford said that electricians, Integrated Waste Treatment Unit control room operators and senior radiation control technicians will also receive an 80-cent-per-hour raise before getting the first-year general wage increase.

The contract also stipulates an increase in pay for shift differential, lead upgrade, and respirator use. Employees will receive qualification pay if they obtain certification for mobile crane operation and pass a national accreditation test for radiological control technicians.

The negotiating committee also made advances on contract language. In addition to recreating classifications and improving vacancy bid rights, the local obtained additional subcontracting language and facility closure language for when there is a fire, weather event, or other uncontrollable situation.

Union negotiators also added language requiring the contractor to provide work clothing and cold weather gear and how often they are replaced. Other safety precautions required the company to maintain shower facilities for employees who work in areas where radioactive or other hazards may exist.

“Negotiating with a new company is always a challenge, but if these negotiations are an indication of how IEC will be to work with, we look forward to the next few years,” Littleford said.   

Coalition Proposes Hydrogen Power Plant to Reindustrialize Portsmouth Site

Tue, 05/24/2022 - 11:55

A coalition of community, labor, education and business organizations is proposing a hydrogen power plant for the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

The Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI), an economic development group, which counts Local 1-689 President Herman Potter as one of its board members, has been working with Ohio University and the Texas company Newpoint Gas to get the project off the ground.

Pictured: The property DOE transferred to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) that is in the southeast portion of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant site. SODI supports reindustrialization of the site. Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy

The hydrogen power operation would be part of the reindustrialization of the former uranium enrichment plant site, which is undergoing decontamination and decommission work to clean up the legacy nuclear and chemical waste. It is the linchpin for SODI’s Ohio Valley “Green Energy and Manufacturing” initiative.

Potter said the USW played a major role in bringing in Newpoint Gas, which signed a letter of intent to buy the property that SODI owns.

“We’ve been talking to them quite a bit,” he said. “We believe our efforts will be reciprocated with at least 100 to 200 USW jobs, and the construction jobs going to the building trades.

“We are doing things to reindustrialize our site through our lobbying efforts,” he added.

The power plant would generate hydrogen from natural gas to produce clean energy for the manufacture of products like cement and ammonia, which have a carbon-heavy production process. Newpoint Gas anticipates getting the power plant online by the beginning of 2027.

The project also has the support of the Ohio AFL-CIO. “As this venture moves forward, we will call for government support to ensure this project is transformative in a part of our state that has all too often been left behind,” said Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga.

Watershed Victory at Amazon Highlights Workers’ Renewed Power

Tue, 05/24/2022 - 08:21

In April, after more than a year of tireless organizing by the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU), 8,300 workers won union representation at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, N.Y.

As the first successful effort to organize an Amazon worksite, the campaign captured the hearts and minds of workers everywhere. Further, it has helped shed light on the impact of a settlement agreement between Amazon and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The deal stemmed from an investigation the NLRB conducted after a separate attempt to organize Amazon workers in Bessemer, Ala. last year.

In the wake of the Bessemer campaign, the NLRB investigation confirmed allegations that Amazon had used a number of nefarious and illegal tactics to intimidate workers and coerce them to vote against unionizing.

To address Amazon’s hostility toward their own workers, the NLRB-issued settlement stipulated that, moving forward:

  1. Amazon would allow union organizers access to its facilities, and would be required to notify employees of this change via email and worksite notices, and through communications on an employee app called A to Z.
  2. The NLRB, which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, would be empowered to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated federal labor laws; and
  3. Amazon would be required to “email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings."

When announcing the settlement, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo declared these changes would “provide a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action.”

As a result, ALU organizers like Chris Smalls, who Amazon fired early in the pandemic after he led a worksite protest over working conditions, had nearly three months leading up to the April 1, 2022 vote count where they could more freely discuss unionization with workers throughout the facility without the threat of retaliation from their employer.

Many within the labor movement believe the changes outlined in the NLRB’s settlement, as well as the creative, grassroots approach by ALU organizers, are a recipe for workers’ renewed optimism post-COVID.

Local 550 Begins First Radiological Control Technician Class

Thu, 05/19/2022 - 12:45

Local 550, along with other partners, celebrated the kick-off of its radiological control technician (RCT) training program on May 5 at the West Kentucky Community & Technical College Emerging Technology Center.

Pictured: Representatives from the USW and partner organizations join students at the kick-off of the RCT training program at Paducah, Ky. Photo credit: Ashlee Fitch, USWTMC

Twenty students are receiving RCT training so they can work at the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant site or at other Department of Energy (DOE) facilities across the nation.

Local 550 President Gary Wilson thanked all the organizations and individuals involved who arranged the class and processed the applications and chose the students.

“Some volunteers worked many hours working out the details to begin our first RCT class at Paducah, but I’ve been amazed by the willingness of everyone who has donated time and resources,” Wilson said.

Other partners in the RCT training program are the USW Tony Mazzocchi Training Center, the West Kentucky Community & Technical College, the Paducah Chamber of Commerce, DOE, Four Rivers Nuclear Partnership, LLC, Mid-America Conversion Services and local community leaders.

Pictured: Rusty Reynolds, Local 550 training manager.

We Keep America Rolling; Tennessee’s Bridgestone Workers Turn Out Some of the Best Tires in the World

Tue, 05/17/2022 - 11:55

David Eldridge reported for his first day of work at the Bridgestone tire factory in Morrison, Tenn., on July 5, 1994. Before he went home that day, he also became a member of Local 1155. “I signed on day one,” said Eldridge, whose father was a union sheet metal worker. “I remembered the benefits of the union from my early days.”

Eldridge is not alone. Despite living in a state where they could choose to shirk their responsibility to pay dues because of so-called “right-to-work” policies, more than 90 percent of the 800 hourly workers at the Bridgestone plant are dues-paying members of the local, and many of them are union activists.

Solidarity Works

One of those activists, Jamie Martinez, who serves on the local union’s Civil and Human Rights and Next Gen committees, got involved in the union early on, with the help of some grandfatherly advice. “My grandpa said, ‘Sign that card,’” noted Martinez, a six-year member who also drew inspiration from the international union’s inaugural Next Gen conference three years ago in Pittsburgh. “It wasn’t until I set foot in that conference that I understood the magnitude of what I was involved in,” Martinez said. “It takes hard work, dedication and solidarity. Solidarity more than anything else.”

That solidarity is clearly visible among the Local 1155L membership in rural Warren County, Tennessee, where members’ families, schools and businesses all depend on the good wages that the USW negotiates in its contracts with Bridgestone.

“We help keep local businesses afloat,” said Local 1155L President Drew Rodriguez. “It all trickles down to every business that we support.” In addition, those wages and benefits allow workers to raise families and enjoy a quality of life that wouldn’t be possible without the union. “All the things I wanted out of life,” Rodriguez said, “I never could have done without the union.”

Pride in Their Work

The pride that members feel in being USW members is also evident in their approach to the day-to-day work of producing tires that bear the iconic Bridgestone label.

“Every employee takes pride in the tires that come out of our facility,” Rodriguez said. “We know it’s an excellent product because we take our time to make sure we get it right.”

The workers in Morrison produce more than 9,000 large truck and bus tires each day, making the factory No. 1 in productivity among Bridgestone’s 24 plants. The workers at the facility also lead the company in cost-efficiency. 

One reason for the factory’s longterm success is the collaborative relationship the plant’s managers enjoy with the union work force. That stems in part from the fact that each member of the Morrison management team started out working on the shop floor, said plant manager Tim Painter. “That’s what makes our culture different,” Painter said. “This plant has a lot to be proud of.”

Among those points of pride is the work force’s dedication to health, safety and environmental stewardship. Those principles are at the core of what the USW stands for, and local leaders in Morrison share that dedication.

Local 1155L (the “L” was added following the United Rubber Workers’ merger into the USW in 1995) has an active and engaged safety committee whose members work closely with Bridgestone managers to identify and eliminate hazards. “It’s the foundation of working,” Heath Young said of his efforts as part of the USW safety committee. “The union itself, I believe, is born out of safety.”

The Warren County factory has been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a Voluntary Protection Program STAR site for its work to keep employees safe, and the building was the first tire plant in the world to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification for sustainability and environmental responsibility.

“This plant is always at the forefront,” Painter said. The 906-acre site includes the 2-million-square-foot Bridgestone facility as well as a 680-acre wildlife preserve, both of which regularly host visits from schoolchildren in the area.

High-Tech Work

Inside the factory, Bridgestone employs a mix of time-honored, hands-on techniques and state-of-the-art technology to produce some of the most advanced products on the market. Each step of the way, USW members are there to make sure the job is done right.

Banbury mixers oversee the beginning of the process, where rubber, pigments and other raw materials are blended to create the primary building blocks for Bridgestone tires.

Members in the extrusion department then feed that material into mills to create various shapes and thicknesses.

Builders assemble pieces of rubber, along with steel, nylon, wire and other components, on machines before the products move on to the curing process, where each individual piece is molded, under intense heat and pressure, to create a finished tire.

A New Generation

The work of building quality tires – and of being an effective union activist – takes time and dedication, and local union leaders, including Financial Secretary Van Tenpenny, recognize the importance of mentoring the next generation to ensure that the USW’s tradition of activism continues.

About 35 percent of the work force in Morrison has less than six years of experience, and the company expects more than 150 workers to retire in the next five years. “It’s our job to educate those coming behind us,” said Tenpenny, a Tennessee native who came to work at the factory not long after it opened in 1990.

In addition to handling the union’s finances for the past 22 years, Tenpenny oversees the local’s award-winning member-to-member communications program, in which he informs Bridgestone workers about the many benefits the USW delivers for them. “We have a collective voice that puts us on the same playing field with the company,” he said. “We’re all in this thing together.”

Upcoming Bargaining

That sense of togetherness will be particularly important for the workers as they approach the expiration of their contract this summer.

In addition to the members in Morrison, the USW represents Bridgestone workers in nearby La Vergne, Tenn., as well as in Akron, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Russellville, Ark., and Bloomington, Ill. Their contract runs through July 29.

Rodriguez, who is in his first year as Local 1155L president, said he has been working hard over the past several months to build relationships with leaders at other tire locals as the contract expiration nears in the hope that, working together, they can achieve a fair agreement.

The Union Difference

First-time union members Jamie Craven, a three-year member, and DeeJay Roland, who has worked at the factory for seven years, recognized the difference their union contract made very soon after starting their jobs at the Bridgestone plant.

Roland, a Local 1155L executive board member who also serves on the union’s Next Gen committee, said he has worked at non-union jobs in the past and that the upcoming contract should build on the strong wages, benefits and safe working conditions the USW has established over the past 32 years in its negotiations with Bridgestone. “Safety is the key for everyone,” he said. “This plant – and this union – it’s our responsibility to keep them going.”

Fight for Fair Trade

One way the USW fights to keep the U.S. tire industry going, Roland and other members say, is through the union’s relentless fight for fair trade and Made in America rules.

Local 1155L Recording Secretary Carlos Amado said that the USW’s campaign to ensure robust domestic supply chains for essential goods is part of the reason he has been proud to call himself a USW member for 27 years. “If we learned anything from this pandemic,” Amado said, “we should have learned that.”

Trucks with Bridgestone-made tires kept U.S. businesses and households supplied with much-needed goods throughout the COVID-19 crisis. “We keep America rolling,” Rodriguez said. USW members should be proud of their role in keeping vital supply chains stocked, and they should be compensated fairly for it, Amado said. “Without the trucking industry, we couldn’t honor that demand,” he said. “We know our product is the best in the world, and that’s just a good feeling.”

Essential Workers

Members like Amado are certain that they produce top-of-the-line tires, because they are involved in every step of the production process.

The tires that come out of the Morrison factory get heavy day-to-day use, in some cases for more than one million miles, so quality control is essential. Prior to shipping them to customers, Bridgestone puts its products through a rigorous testing and inspection process.

Workers, like 19-year USW member Annette Veals, visually and manually check each individual tire to ensure that there are no abnormalities before they are sent out the factory door. “It’s important,” said USW policy committee member Tommy Winkles. “We want people to know that we build some of the best tires in the world.”

Industry Challenges

Winkles knows something about that – he’s been involved in making tires for 44 years. Before coming to Bridgestone 32 years ago, he worked at the Goodyear factory in Gadsden, Ala., about 150 miles south of Morrison. That plant, once the largest tire factory in the world, closed in 2020 after 90 years in operation, when the company moved production to Mexico.

That loss was particularly devastating for then-Local 12L President Mickey Ray Williams, who fought for years to preserve quality union jobs at Goodyear and who now serves the members of Local 1155L and others in the region as a USW staff representative.

“When we compete fairly, American tire makers are the best in the world,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, the playing field we’re on when it comes to trade isn’t always fair.” The Gadsden closure is a reminder of why the USW plays such an important role in manufacturing towns like Morrison, why the union continues to organize tire plants throughout the South, and why union members have fought so hard for decades for worker-friendly trade practices and strong “Made in America” policies.

“Bringing more tire workers into the union, like those at Bridgestone in Tennessee, Kumho in Georgia, Giti in South Carolina, and elsewhere, will only make the U.S. industry stronger,” said Daniel Flippo, director of District 9, which includes Tennessee as well as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “All USW members who produce the tires we drive on know the union difference, and all workers deserve to feel that same pride shown at Local 1155L.”

Strict domestic procurement rules, which the Biden administration pushed for as part of its $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year, will help ensure that the good jobs that USW members have at Bridgestone and other tire makers can continue for the next generation and beyond.

“We have fought for years for our jobs here,” Tenpenny said. “And we will continue to fight, because of our union."

Solvay Invests in Unit Expansion at Marietta, Ohio, Plant

Thu, 05/12/2022 - 11:15

Solvay began planned expansion of its Marietta, Ohio, plant in March, growth that has already led to new hiring and may help ensure the facility’s future.

“It is good to see that Solvay recognizes the outstanding, quality work our members perform every day at the Marietta site by investing in the facility,” said International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who oversees the union’s chemical sector. “This investment by the company goes a long way to securing the current jobs and increasing employment of good-paying union work.”

Solvay is expanding its sulfone polymers chemical business in the U.S. Sulfone polymers are high-heat transparent plastics that can withstand prolonged exposure to water, chemicals and temperatures.

The Marietta expansion will increase capacity by over 25 percent in 2024 of one of its sulfone polymers products, polysulfone, which is a rigid, high-strength plastic pellet.

Local 14200 President Gregory May said the company has not said how many workers it will hire as a result of the expansion, but unionized contractors and USW workers will be installing the new equipment.

Pictured: Local 14200 President Greg May.

“We’ve already increased manpower by four operators in the polysulfone unit so they can train as the new equipment arrives,” he said.

Local 14200 represents more than 200 hourly workers in operations, maintenance, materials handling and the lab.

Marietta’s polysulfone polymers product goes into medical equipment, such as filters for hemodialysis and dental instruments.

“What I’m most proud of is the use for hemodialysis because it saves lives and gives quality of life to people with severe kidney disease,” May said.

The other main industries that use Marietta’s product are in aerospace, such as in the trim work inside planes and in flight instrumentation; food service, such as in food trays, and the automobile market, such as in electronics and interiors.

May said he is excited about the expansion and what it means for the site’s future. 

“I believe it solidifies the Marietta site for the next 20 years,” he said. “The union and management, in my definition, have an excellent working relationship where we strive together to do what is best for the Solvay site and the employees there.”

Engaging New Hires Helps Local 9-675 Improve Workplace Safety

Wed, 05/11/2022 - 10:16

A renewed focus on engaging new hires is helping Local 9-675 eliminate hazards, resolve longstanding health and safety concerns and make the 3M’s Guin, Ala., plant a safer workplace.

When Angie Mayo took over as the local’s Triangle of Prevention (TOP) rep last year, she began consciously reaching out to new members and working with the company to bring more health and safety training to the new hire orientation.

She observed that new hires were getting finger injuries working with the equipment, which prompted her to evaluate their training.

Now, the new hires have one week of class work, TOP training the second week and one extra week for on-the-job training. New hires team up with a fellow worker who shows them how to do the job safely.

Pictured: 3M’s Guin, Ala., plant.

Mayo started working with the first new hire group this year. “They’ve been really engaged, and I have good worker-trainers. I tell them they have a voice on what happens in the plant to keep themselves safe,” she said.

The USW’s TOP program is a union-run and controlled health and safety program that involves workers, salaried employees and management in keeping the workplace free of hazards, providing solutions to potential health and safety problems, and investigating near miss incidents and accidents to prevent future reoccurrences.

Mayo’s efforts in bringing new hires into the TOP program resulted in new ideas for improving existing processes, procedures and equipment.

“Having fresh eyes for a job everyone is used to doing is always a plus. We encourage workers when they change departments to give a new eye to what is happening,” she said.

Mayo walks through the plant every day and talks to each employee by the end of the week. Workers approach her and tell her about potential hazards.

One of those hazards was in the bubbles department. The workers wanted an exhaust fan with louvers because when it was cold, their only option was to place cardboard over the fan. The previous manager was content with that solution, but Mayo consulted with plant engineering, which ordered louvers and modified them to the exhaust fan.

Another hazard concerned dock safety.

“We have had several near misses with outsourced or non-3M truck drivers driving off from our docks with our employees still inside the trailer,” Mayo said. “We are now trialing the air brake locks we ordered, hoping to get rid of this hazard. The air lock locks the breaks on the trailer, so even if a trucker is there, he can’t move the truck with the breaks locked.”

Hourly employees aren’t the only ones who approach her with safety issues. Supervisors and other salaried employees turn in hazardous items as well.

“Most people now say, ‘If you want something done, turn a TOP in on it,’” Mayo said.

Member Solidarity Helps Local 6992 Beat Concessions, Gain Significant Wage Increases

Mon, 05/09/2022 - 11:20

When Local 6992 began bargaining their new contract at the DuPont Yerkes plant last September, the company came to the table with the same “pay simplification” proposal it had been pushing at its facilities across the country. 

However, the local, based in Buffalo, N.Y., saw the proposal for what it was: an attack on their benefits.

So the 325 members fought back, standing together in solidarity and engaging the community until they not only beat back the concessionary proposal, but won significant wage increases and other gains.

“When members found out what DuPont wanted to do, it fired them up,” Local 6992 President Angelle Gregoire said.

Members made their own shirts with solidarity messages. Every Tuesday and Friday the local did a t-shirt day, and “that was a big thing,” Gregoire said.

Workers put up signs throughout the plant, placed “Fair Contract Now” signs in their car windshields, leafletted the facility, and engaged in informational picketing. At every turn, management heard a clear, unified message.

“When we did rallies, half our membership came out and that was a big thing because typically we would not get a lot of members to turn out,” Gregoire said.

The local took to social media, reached out to local papers and leveraged their community connections to gain support for their contract fight.

“We started putting the community into our fight, and I think the solidarity of the membership and community helped a lot,” said Jim Briggs, District 4 Sub-District 1 director. “The company was seeing something they had never seen before, and I think the company believed this membership was setting up a plan to have a work stoppage if it did not move off its issues, and they started backing off.”

As a result, on March 22, members overwhelmingly ratified a strong contract that rejected the pay simplification proposal and raises wages 15 percent over the five-year term of the new agreement.

Other changes in the contract included making it easier to get double-time for the seventh day of work, improving the meal tickets and food allowance, and maintaining the payment of overtime for 12-hour shift workers who work over 36 hours a week.

“I think most of our people are happy with the wage increase,” Gregoire said. “It is one of the best we’ve gotten, and they are happy to have a five-year agreement.”

“Every time you have a good contract, you have a membership that is behind it, and that’s why we were successful,” she added.

Pictured: Members of Local 6992 at the DuPont Yerkes plant in Buffalo, N.Y., conduct an early morning informational picket during contract talks. Photos courtesy of LU 6992.

USW health care members rally with refinery workers in Beverly Hills

Mon, 05/09/2022 - 10:42

Last fall, when health care workers at Local 7600 in Southern California were facing a potential strike, Chevron workers at Local 12-5 joined the group in a massive rally and march in Pasadena.

The solidarity helped the 7,400 members keep momentum, prevent a potentially historic work stoppage, and obtain a much-improved collective bargaining agreement only weeks later.

These essential workers paid it forward last week while at the Alliance of Health Care Unions Leadership Conference.

Several members of Local 7600 were in attendance and joined the Chevron refinery workers in a rally on May 4 in Beverly Hills as they entered their sixth week of a strike.

“These members had our backs when we needed it, and it was our turn to show up for them,” said District 12 Health Care Workers Council Coordinator Melissa Borgia. “This is what it means to be in solidarity with each other and how we show the community our power.”

The group was also joined by the area Central Labor Council (CLC) and the Los Angeles chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA).

About 500 members of Local 12-5 have been on strike against Chevron's unfair labor practices since March 21. They work at the company’s refinery in Richmond, Calif.

USW submits comments on behalf of health care workers in public hearing

Thu, 04/28/2022 - 12:22

On April 27, the USW submitted comments on behalf of union members on the first of a four-day public hearing on creating a permanent workplace standard to protect health care workers from COVID-19. 

On June 21, 2021, after months of relentless activism by labor activists, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an interim final rule establishing an emergency temporary standard (ETS) to protect health care and health care support workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19. 

OSHA quit enforcing its temporary version of the rule on Dec. 27 but maintains the standard hasn’t lapsed.

On March 22, 2022, the agency announced a limited re-opening of the record and their intention to hold a public hearing to gather additional information from health care workers and other stakeholders. 

Some of the comments submitted on behalf of USW members included the need for any references to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be removed from the standard due to political and corporate influence. 

The USW also said that although this proposed standard is a good step forward, there is still much that could be improved. The union said specifically that the standard must include a new section for employee participation, enabling workers and their representatives to effectively participate.

Click here to read the full USW commentary.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Workers Confront Safety Concerns

Wed, 04/27/2022 - 10:05

Local 12-9477 is pushing for greater safety protections after two health and safety incidents in recent months at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located east of Carlsbad, N.M.

On April 9, officials suspended waste shipments from Idaho National Laboratory (INL) after liquid at the bottom of a drum of transuranic waste from INL tested positive for radioactive contamination.

Transuranic waste consists of irradiated items like clothes and equipment as a result of nuclear activities at Department of Energy (DOE) sites across the country.

USW waste handlers and radiation control technicians preparing waste drums to be emplaced in the underground salt repository acted quickly to alert management.

“The way our workers handled the drum went well,” said Local 12-9477 President Jonathan Fuentes. “When they were observing the barrel, they noticed the fluid and went through the procedure to check that out. They had to decontaminate the area and contact-handle waste bay for extra caution.”

The waste handlers and radiation control technicians evacuated the waste handling building and were tested, along with the air in the facility, for radioactive contamination.

WIPP officials said no radioactive contamination was found on the workers or in the air and that no radiation was released outside the site.

“So far, nobody has been sick,” Fuentes said. “We’re in the process of investigating why the incident happened to see if we have to make changes to better protect our members.”

This is the second time that WIPP received a problematic drum of waste. In 2014, an incorrectly-packaged drum shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured, released radiation and caused the plant to suspend emplacement and mining activities for three years.

Air flow

In February, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board also reported that the prime contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), continued having difficulties with three continuous air monitors in the underground salt repository due to corrosion and salt build-up in the vacuum pump filter.

If there is a radiation release, these monitors signal to an operator to shut down the unfiltered, 700-C fan so workers and the public aren’t exposed to radiation.

NWP responded by changing the filters in the faulty monitors, but Fuentes said the local is demanding all the old filters be replaced to ensure workers’ health and safety.

“Patchwork solutions don’t work,” he said. “Our members deserve to know that the devices that are supposed to warn of radioactive releases work.”

Photo credit: Mike Hancock, Retired LU 9-562

Energy Department Appoints Local 689 President to Site Advisory Board

Tue, 04/26/2022 - 06:37

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management appointed Local 689 President Herman Potter to a two-year term on the Portsmouth Site Specific Advisory Board.

The advisory board consists of stakeholders in the area who reflect a diversity of viewpoints regarding the Portsmouth site.

The board is involved in cleanup decisions at the former gaseous diffusion plant located a few miles east of Piketon, and provides DOE officials with advice, information and recommendations on issues affecting the Environmental Management program at Portsmouth.

Some of these issues include cleanup standards and environmental restoration, waste management and disposition, and future land use and long-term stewardship.

Pictured: Local 689 President Herman Potter, 2014 USW Atomic Energy Workers Council meeting in Erwin, Tenn.

Potter, who began his term this March, said the board advises on the future of the site, which is important to the local because it’s interested in reindustrialization once the cleanup is finished.

He said the board could impact more work coming to the site and health and safety protections for workers and the community.

Potter brings to the board onsite experience and years of navigating DOE issues.

“I thought by being on the board I may be able to navigate through all the hurdles that may be present to get things done for the future of the Portsmouth site,” he said. “I would like to see a formal declaration that all decontaminate and decommission activities focus on recycling and reindustrialization as part of DOE’s mission for the cleanup project.”

While DOE’s Office of Environmental Management takes the board’s recommendations seriously, Potter said the board, the local and the international union need to educate the political delegations about the importance of adopting these items so they can encourage DOE to accept them.

Potter’s term ends June 30, 2023.

Besides the Portsmouth Site Specific Advisory Board, there are eight others across the country, including the USW-represented facilities at Hanford, Wash., Idaho Falls, Idaho, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Paducah, Ky.

Your Union, Your Voice 2022 Under Way!

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 08:45

In March, our union officially began another round of the Your Union, Your Voice (YUYV) effort.

We first launched YUYV in 2019 because we wanted to make sure USW members’ and retirees’ opinions were reflected at every level of our union’s work. 

We circulated a union-wide membership survey and held 170 town hall meetings. This provided a valuable opportunity for our District Directors, other elected union leaders and staff to hear what was on our members’ and retirees’ minds. The feedback you provided in your survey responses and at town halls helped shape our work since then, and continues to inform our efforts as we move further into 2022. 

Pictured: Your Union, Your Voice Town Hall at USW Local 7343 in Hanover, PA.

In recent weeks, USW Districts began holding town hall meetings in locations across the United States. The meetings are opportunities for USW members, retirees and families to once again be part of these important discussions.

Additionally, we launched another membership survey so we can know where our members and retirees stand on some of the biggest issues facing working Americans today. If you haven’t already responded to this survey, you can find it at

Town hall meetings will continue into June. Look for details on this website, our social media channels and through your USW Districts. 

Pictured: Your Union, Your Voice Town Hall in District 8 in Frankfort, KY.

Our common values such as fair pay, safe workplaces, a secure retirement and vibrant communities connect us as union members. Please take the time to attend a town hall meeting, participate in the survey and share this information widely throughout your local unions and with fellow Steelworkers.   

Your voice is an essential part of this effort!

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Roy Houseman talks manufacturing competitiveness on the Leslie Marshall Show

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 13:00

USW Legislative Director Roy Houseman appeared on the Leslie Marshall Show last week to discuss legislation that would bring back investment in U.S. manufacturing, repair critical supply chains and protect the nation against reliance on foreign goods.

Two important bills going to conference soon – the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the House’s America COMPETES Act (COMPETES) – make important investments in technology, but the House bill includes more comprehensive benefits for manufacturing workers and their employers.

Houseman said members of Congress are currently working to take pieces of each bill and make it into one innovative bill that would include the comprehensive gains for workers.

“It's a situation where we know if these bills are done right, they will provide billions of dollars for manufacturers and workers to improve their workplaces and actually compete globally,” Houseman said.

Houseman said the USW has been hard at work ensuring the new bill would also include critical protections for workers: the Leveling the Playing Field Act 2.0, which would make the U.S. more efficient at stopping illegally dumped and subsidized foreign goods; the Supply Chain Resiliency Act, which contains labor peace language to ensure federal investments do not hinder workers’ rights; and funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance that helps workers displaced by bad trade get retraining.

 “When our country dropped manufacturing investment, it was pretty staggering,” said Houseman. “Today China accounts for 51.3 percent of global steel production and 57 percent of global aluminum production.”

“For our members, who are a good portion in manufacturing, this will benefit them and will benefit the American public, because good union workers with good union wages help support their communities.”

Click below to listen to the full interview with Roy Houseman and Leslie Marshall about maintaining and strengthening U.S. manufacturing competitiveness:

USW New Media · Getting Manufacturing Competitiveness Right(April 15, 2022)

Local 12075-18 Negotiates Strong Contract With Trinseo

Tue, 04/12/2022 - 08:12

Local 12075-18 members on March 24 ratified by a 3 to 1 margin a three-year contract at the Trinseo plant in Midland, Mich., that included wage hikes and benefit gains that improve work-life balance.

“Ninety-eight percent of our members showed up to vote on the contract,” said Local 12075-18 President Mike Crosson. “The contract was very favorable for us.”

The three-year contract started Feb. 15, 2022 and expires Feb. 15, 2025. Workers received back pay to Feb. 15.

Everyone received a 5 percent wage increase the first year, 4 percent raise the second year and 4 percent wage increase the third—a total increase of 13 percent over the contract term, which will help workers in this time of high inflation. They also obtained a $500 signing bonus.

Trinseo’s wage scale is divided into four tiers of knowledge and experience, ranging from Tier 1, where new employees have a walk-through knowledge of the chemical process, to Tier 4, where the worker is a head operator with much responsibility for the shift.

As workers gain more knowledge of the different processing units, they go up a tier and get a pay raise. Crosson said the local negotiated an immediate $1 increase in base pay for the head operators because of the responsibility they carry and to acknowledge their experience and knowledge of the chemical processes and units.

Workers received two more paid holidays and one more floating holiday. They now have 10 paid holidays and three floating holidays. 

Local negotiators also secured two big wins for work-life balance: Male employees will now get four weeks of paid parental leave, and everyone gets 80 hours of paid sick time to take care of family members or themselves. This is significant because many chemical companies force their employees to use their vacation time if they or their family members are sick.

Crosson said the local has in its contract language that the company cannot take away wages, benefits or make changes in working conditions unless salaried employees have to do so as well.

“My bargaining committee was awesome and came well-prepared to the table so that when the company gave its proposals, we had a good idea of what they wanted in advance,” Crosson said.

Local 12075-18 members work as chemical operators or in logistics. Trinseo was formerly known as Styron—Dow’s plastics and latex business—before Dow sold it to Bain Holdings in 2010.

Dow Elk Grove Unit Makes Gains in Contract

Fri, 04/08/2022 - 06:16

With just 10 members, the Local 7-507 unit staffing Dow’s Elk Grove, Ill., plant may be small, but the contract they ratified last January includes big gains.

The members negotiated a five-year contract that has a 13.5 percent wage increase over the term of the agreement. All workers will receive a shift differential, which increased 10 cents, as well as a $1,500 sign-on bonus with the company paying the taxes. 

For the first time, the four workers who are emergency responders for the plant will receive extra pay for performing this service. The local also now participates in Dow’s Total Rewards program.

“We cleaned up our contract language and that helped a lot,” said unit president and chief steward Larry Lugo. “We are all very happy with the contract.”

Eight of the workers are operators and two are mechanics. 

USW members in Elk Grove produce laminating adhesives for food industry packaging and other sectors, including the seals for Coffee Mate packets and 32-ounce containers of yogurt, as well as the material used to attach of ear bands on face masks.

Local 12934 Extends Contract, Approves Dow Benefit Program

Fri, 04/08/2022 - 06:14

Members of Local 12934 on March 17 approved a contract extension, which included a Letter of Understanding covering the Dow Midland East Side complex.

The local, whose contract was originally set to expire in March 2024, began bargaining March 7 and reached a tentative agreement March 11. The new deal includes across-the-board wage increases and a $1,000 ratification bonus.

Local 12934 President Mike Orvosh said that the local agreed to engage in mid-term bargaining because the negotiations committee felt it could leverage Dow’s desire to include the membership in the company’s Total Rewards program to achieve other gains.

In addition to the general wage raises, the local also negotiated a two-year, wage rate extension for 78 workers, reduced the time disciplinary documentation is in a worker’s file, secured 20 more jobs that Dow cannot contract out, and guaranteed the company will post at least 10 positions for the maintenance trainee program. The local further retained the right to bargain over benefit changes. 

The program, which offers benefits like paid parental leave, paid leave to care for sick family members and discounts on health care premiums for workers earning less than $75,000 per year, also meant freezing the defined benefit pension plan, effective Dec. 31, 2023.

A number of other USW locals at Dow sites already accepted the Total Rewards program including Local 12075 at the Midland West Side Complex, Local 88G at Bristol, Pa., and Local 7-507-11 at Elk Grove Village, Ill.

“This was a significant challenge for us,” said Orvosh, “so we decided to get to the table and bring back the best deal for the members.” 

With acceptance of Dow’s Total Rewards program, Local 12934 members who have a 401k plan, will receive an increased company match, and the company will give a retroactive match to the beginning of 2022. In addition, Dow will automatically make a non-elective contribution to workers’ savings plan accounts every year and calculate the contribution on base pay, overtime and performance awards. This is a significant increase for some members, Orvosh said.

The local negotiated a yearly $3,000 harmonization bonus through 2024 for those who currently have a heritage Dow Corning plan, which is a defined benefit pension plan. Workers who have a Personal Pension Account (PPA) received a one-time harmonization bonus of $1,000.  

“No way did we feel the contract comes close to making up the freezing of the defined benefit pension, but we believe it was absolutely the best deal we could get for the members,” Orvoshsaid.

Cleveland Clinic workers score multiple wins with new contract

Mon, 04/04/2022 - 09:56

Workers at Local 1014L in Ohio built upon the many gains made in their 2019 contract with the ratification of their latest three-year agreement with Cleveland Clinic Akron General earlier this month.

Wage increases for the first year range between 2.5 and 20 percent, and if an employee’s wage is between steps they will be advanced to the next level. General wage increases for years 2 and 3 will be 3 percent, and many workers will receive both the GWI and a step increase in the next two years.

The bargaining committee also obtained improvements to tuition reimbursement, and retirees will receive the same discount on their health care programs as all other retirees of the Cleveland Clinic. And in a major leap forward, they secured paid time off for maternity and paternity leaves for full-time employees.

Members of Local 1014 L, which covers the technical, clerical, and support staff of the Cleveland Clinic Akron General, will also now have two health care plans with identical coverage.

President Conway welcomes Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention to Pittsburgh, Shares a Message Of Opportunity

Wed, 03/30/2022 - 14:03

On Tues., March 29, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO kicked off their 45th Constitutional Convention in Pittsburgh, Penn., in the very same location that hosted the group’s first-ever gathering, the Omni William Penn Hotel.

The three-day-long gathering is the first time union members from across the state of Penn., have been able to come together since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

USW International President Tom Conway addressed the delegates on the second day of the convention with a resounding message of opportunity.

“The sentiment about unions in this country is at an all time high,” said President Conway. “We need to use this opportunity to organize and grow and fight back.”

He urged delegates to work together as a labor movement to organize, “we have an opportunity to teach other people how they can change their lives and make them better by coming together and making a union. Get out there and talk to a workforce who’s anxious to talk to us.”

President Conway went on to discuss the current state of labor in the country. Reports show that for the first time since before the Great Recession workers are seeing real wage increases, and our workforce is young and growing. 

“Young workers don’t just tTweet each other, they organize through social media and then they show up. We need to take advantage of that as a whole labor movement–together,” he said.

He reinforced the fact that labor finally has an administration that is working with us on trade and the National Labor Relations Board, saying “we have a president who talks about unions all the time. He knows that forming a union is the quickest path to a real middle class job and a standard of living that makes a difference.”

President Conway left delegates with a clear call to action, “Anything we’ve ever gotten we’ve had to organize and take. It’s time for labor to step up, move forward and get deals that are honest and fair.”

If you’d like to explore more from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention, check them out on Twitter and Facebook for live updates!

USW Members Fight For Fair Contract At Sherwin-Williams

Wed, 03/30/2022 - 10:05

Members of Local 14919, who have been on an unfair labor practice strike against Sherwin-Williams since Feb. 5, this month took their fight for a fair contract to the public.

The 55 workers, who make spray paint and other products at the company’s Bedford Heights, Ohio, aerosol can plant, on March 25 welcomed U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to their picket line (pictured below). Sen. Brown rallied with the Local 14919 strikers, elected union leaders, retirees and supporters in support of the local’s struggle for a fair contract.

The group also conducted a night-time informational picket outside the Cavaliers-Lakers basketball game in Cleveland. USW Strategic Campaigns used the bat light to shine the “Fair Contract Now at Sherwin-Williams” message on the fieldhouse.

Negotiations started Oct. 28, 2021, and the contract ended Nov. 20, 2021. Local 14919 members worked for months without a contract before the strike because the company refused to extend the existing agreement.

Negotiations have continued, and the local met with the company several times in February and March. At the end of February, the local union brought in a federal mediator.

Local 14919 President Terrell Williams said that “Sherwin-Williams is not bargaining in the traditional sense” to the point that even with a mediator involved, the company remains deeply entrenched.

Pictured: Local Union 14919 members on the picket line at Sherwin-Williams’ Bedford Heights, Ohio, plant.

While the biggest concerns are the company’s failure to bargain, wages, pensions and the attendance policy, “the company wants to bundle its non-economic and economic proposals together, and have us take all or nothing. That’s not negotiating,” Williams added.

Before Sherwin-Williams’ failure to bargain forced out Local 14919, Williams said workers were asked to take on excessive overtime on assembly lines in production, the filling department and in shipping and receiving. In January, they logged 60-70 hours, six days a week, with a couple of 12-hour shifts every few days.

“We knew the company was building the stock up,” Williams said. “It didn’t make any sense other than a plan to bust the union.”

Sherwin-Williams plans to invest more than $600 million for a new headquarters complex and state-of-the-art research and development center. Williams said the company also needs to invest in its workers, since their labor makes the funding for the investment possible.


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